The Iraqi election looks, so far, to be generally good news. It went off without too much violence and it was managed by the Iraqis themselves with minimal American help. The preliminary results show that in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law Coalition appears to have outpolled the unholy alliance of ISCI and the Sadrists — the Iraqi National Alliance, which is widely viewed as the party closest to Iran. Meanwhile former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, which appeals for Sunni and secular votes, appears to be in first place in Sunni areas and running a close second overall behind State of Law. If the results hold up, it would suggest that last year’s provincial elections were no fluke — Iraqi voters prefer nationalist candidates running on law-and-order platforms to religious candidates who are seen as too close to the Iranians. This is yet another big step forward in Iraq’s emergence as that most unlikely of creatures — a real Arab democracy, something that President Bush’s myriad of critics long dismissed as a neocon fantasy.
But it is hard to know what lies ahead. Predictably, there are claims of fraud being bandied about by losing candidates and there is sure to be much difficult camel trading ahead as the new government is being formed. The situation remains unsettled, so it is well worth listening to Ryan Crocker, the first-rate former ambassador and General Petraeus’s indispensible partner in implementing the surge and turning around the situation in 2007-2008. Here is what he has to say in a new interview with Foreign Policy about the impending drawdown of U.S. forces, which are scheduled to go from roughly 100,000 today to 50,000 by the end of August:
The agreement I helped negotiate had an intermediate timeline to have forces out of cities and towns by mid-2009, which was accomplished, and full withdrawal by 2011. The August 2010 date was not part of that agreement. I would have preferred to see us keep maximum flexibility with the Iraqis between now and 2011.
It makes me nervous. We’re going to have a prolonged period of government formation. It could take two or three months, [and] it’s likely to be a pretty turbulent process. I think [the government formation process], in and of itself, is not likely to be destabilizing, but it means that the major issues out there aren’t going to be addressed. Things like disputed internal boundaries, Kirkuk, the relationship between federal, regional, and provincial governments — all of that’s going to be on hold until you have a new government.
That means that things aren’t going to be much further along come August than they are right now. So I would be more comfortable, within the terms of the agreement we negotiated, with keeping a more robust force for a longer period of time.
Sage words from one of our very best diplomats. We can only hope that President Obama is listening.