STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Some Sunnis Drop Out of Iraq Election
By Staff News & Analysis - February 22, 2010

The Sunni wing of Iraq's leading nonsectarian political coalition said Saturday it will drop out of next month's election as a result of alleged Iranian influence on a Shiite-led vetting panel that blacklisted hundreds of candidates. In a statement explaining the step, spokesman Haidar al-Mullah said the party decided to pull out of the vote after U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American military commander in Iraq, each described the Shiite leaders of a candidate-vetting panel as having ties to Iran. The announcement raises the likelihood that the legitimacy of the March 7 parliamentary vote will be called into question. U.S. and United Nations diplomats have expressed fears that a disputed result could also open the door to a new round of violence and delay plans for American troops to leave Iraq. Further raising the stakes, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue called on other parties to join it in withdrawing from the vote. It stopped short, however, of advocating a boycott by Sunni voters — a strategy blamed for depriving Sunnis of a political voice in the past. – Washington Times

Dominant Social Theme: Don't worry about it. Iraq is a settled issue.

Free-Market Analysis: We try to follow the news from Iraq on a fairly regular basis. The announcement that an important Sunni group will boycott the upcoming election has not received a great deal of notice so far. But if it stands, and especially if it spreads, the results could be dramatic (more about this below). While the general consensus is that the surge worked and that Iraq is now pacified and on its way to become a democratic state, there remains a certain amount of unrest beneath the surface. Three distinct cultures vie for primacy in Iraq, and that is probably two too many.

The Sunnis are the minority in Iraq but make up the majority of Muslims in the world. The Shiites are the majority in Iraq and the base of this religious element is in Iran. Then there are the Kurds, mostly Sunni, but also more ecumenical than the Shia and Sunni factions in Iraq. Additionally, the Kurds straddle three countries. There is Iraq of course, and then Turkey (10 million Kurds) and Iran. The Kurdish population has a history of confrontation with all three states, and since the Kurds are a tribal entity with more than a thousand years of history, we don't see tensions falling anytime soon. In fact, in Iraq, there really are three separate nations from what we can tell.

So, the question remains – how can all three of these groups live together in harmony. The answer of course (from the American/allied standpoint) is a participatory democracy that gives each faction a say in the larger unitary political environment. But Iraq is not like the United States or even Britain. The fissures run deep and one begins to believe that the same optimism that has supported the European Union experiment is at work in Iraq as well – perhaps unrealistically. Just because a political union is declared, doesn't make it so. Just because electoral politics are implemented doesn't mean broad participation is imminent.

If Sunnis are seen not to be participating in the election, how much legitimacy will the elections be seen as having in the larger Arab world? More than this, of course, a Sunni boycott would exacerbate tensions with the Shia, who are already seen as taking guidance from Iran. A destabilized Iraq would probably slow the timeline of withdrawal from Iraq as the above article points out. From the standpoint of the United States, perceived Iranian influence over the Iraq political process is a further incitement to confront Iran, thus raising tensions even more.

NOTED: Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll …. In a surprising result, Texas Congressman and 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul (R) won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference, capturing 31% of the vote. Three-time CPAC straw poll winner Mitt Romney (in '06, '07, and '08) finished second with 22%, followed by Sarah Palin with 7%, and Tim Pawlenty with 6%. When the announcement of Paul's victory was made, many in the crowd responded with "boos." That said, as people left the convention, "Ron Paul" chants could be heard coming from across the hotel lobby. Though 10,000 were registered at CPAC, just 2,395 participated in the straw poll. Almost half of them (48%) were students, and more than half (56%) were 25 years old or younger. Men made up 64% of participants.- NBC … (Ed Note: A pleasant surprise for libertarian/conservatives at CPAC, but not for others?)

After Thoughts

Is it at this point in the American (and allied) interest to raise tensions in the region further? Afghanistan is a large country, and difficult to pacify. Iraq itself remains on edge, even with upcoming elections. There have been outbreaks of violence in Yemen as well, which the US and allied forces have been at least temporarily sucked into. Wars are fairly easy to get into but much more difficult, in many cases, to get out of.

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