Is Democracy Feasible for Iraq?

Article published on June 28, 2004
community published
Article published on June 28, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Can the Iraqi people put aside their differences to create a free democratic nation? What role, if any, should the US and its armed forces have in this process? This article is based on the opinions of the US forces and Iraqis in Balad, Iraq.

America believes that if they don not watch over the shoulder of the Iraqi Government, the ideals of freedom and democracy will not be imported into their constitution. This is certainly possible. Iraqi people in general are very devout Muslims and many of the problems that were originally voiced regarding the interim constitution had to do with the wording of laws. Was the Koran to be the ultimate law of the country with democracy as a second opinion or was freedom more important? Diversity in the new government generally prevents a constitution that would favor any side or religion from being drafted. But is achieving diversity in government as much of a problem as creating one that will actually work? Is it possible for the three main groups in Iraq, the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, to co-exist, let alone create a functioning government capable of forming any consensus?

Historically, Iraq has not been accustomed to any form of government other than an unelected one. The country was ruled by a monarchy from 1921 until 1958 when it was taken over by a military dictator. In 1979 Saddam Hussein took power and almost instantly started a period of constant purges, tightening his grip on the country. Only during the coup of 1958 was Iraq considered a republic, albeit with a dictator.

“We cannot trust the occupation forces”

Many Muslim clerics believe that part of the transfer of power relies on the ousting of the American forces so that Iraq can worry about internal matters and not about the coalition. On June 8th, the UN Security Council unanimously voted for the British and American plan to hand over power to the Iraqis. Dr Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi, a Sunni and spokesperson for the Association of Muslim scholars, said “We cannot trust the occupation forces after all their lies. We cannot imagine people getting freedom and sovereignty with the presence of 150,000 soldiers stationed in their land. We cannot expect any success for any political process under the thumb of the occupation, whether as the Governing Council or the interim government.”

Terrorism, another obstacle in the path of democracy, is still a huge part of daily life for the Iraqi people and American forces. Abid Basid, an Iraqi contract worker for the US forces, believes that after the handover of power on June 30th, there will be a greater chance of bombings and terrorist attacks. His co-worker Mustafa agrees; he feels that the only way that terrorism can be decreased in Iraq is to increase the number of troops in the country. I asked him if he thinks the European Union can help in any way, if relief workers or troops would be more vital for the security of Iraq. He replied that “Yeah, more forces are needed. The US and Europe need to work together and share information for quicker action.” Ali Maged, who is also a contract worker, says the increase of American forward operating bases, smaller installations that are in the heart of the city, are the answer: “They are places to go for help” where Iraqis can come to receive aid from the Americans in various ways. This creates a feeling of trust and mutual reliance on one another. All three felt the need for more Iraqi informants to prevent attacks against the people of Iraq and coalition forces. As of June 8th 2004, 825 US service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003. 607 of those soldiers died from hostile actions, primarily from terrorist attacks. Since May 1st, the date American President George W Bush declared the end to major hostility, 498 troops have died from terrorist attacks similar to those that could be prevented with the use of informants in terrorist cells. British Forces have reported 58 deaths, Italy 18, Spain 8, and Bulgaria and Poland 6.

Why did we invade Iraq?

Some people say that the idea of democracy in Iraq is part of American propaganda to create a problem that the invasion could fix but Private First Class William Bowman believes that “It’s not a question of the possibility of democracy in Iraq but how it is to be done.” Many American Forces believe they are here for the right reasons now, but had not invaded for the same ones. Before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, US President George Bush relied on the testimony of exiles and spies for the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which was the key reason for the invasion of Iraq. Since the end of major conflict and the failure to find chemical weapons, the integrity of these groups that would have benefited from the invasion of Iraq has been questioned, as well as the reason for the invasion itself. Since then, the US has changed its stance on why America took over the country, claiming that the Iraqi people were being held captive in the shackles of oppression.

Ultimately, I believe democracy can be achieved by the Iraqis and their new governmental leaders but they want to do it their own way without American intervention. What country would be happy having an outside force watching its every move to make sure its policies were implemented? Democracy is achievable but it will be in the timeline of years not months. Freedom and democracy are a new idea to the Iraqi people, one that can be hard to get used to. In the end, whether people who hold drastically different beliefs can live together peacefully is down to human nature.