The much-ballyhooed elections in Iraq later this week are likely to dig the Iraqi hole a little deeper for the Bush administration. The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shi’ite Muslim cleric in Iraq, has indirectly ordered fellow Shi’a to cast their ballots for representatives of the Shi’ite religious parties that now control the interim Iraqi government. A permanent Shi’ite-Kurdish government may prove even more intransigent than the interim government in addressing Sunni concerns about being cut out of Iraq’s oil revenues—thus accelerating the incipient civil war in that nation.

The ever over-confident Bush administration, controlling the levers of authority in the globe’s only hyperpower, has never really bothered to understand important characteristics of nations it invades. In its lust for the rhetoric of “spreading democracy,” the administration has failed to notice that the term means something different in countries with little democratic experience, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, than it does in the United States. In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, voters cast their ballots as prominent leaders desire. In Afghan elections, people voted as their tribal leaders or warlords directed. In Iraq, most of the majority Shi’a population (60 percent of Iraqis) will reliably vote the way al-Sistani wants. In contrast, American voters—even fundamentalist Christian ones—don’t usually vote solely on the basis of their religious leader’s political wishes (if they are expressed at all).

The Shi’ite religious parties in Iraq, which will most likely be victorious, are heavily influenced and funded by the oppressive theocratic government in Iran. One of the most prominent of those parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, originally consisted of Iraqi defectors, exiles and refugees who spent two decades in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule and fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. The party’s militia, the ruthless Badr organization, has been accused of assassinations and other violence against Sunnis and secular Shi’a. According to foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter, the Dawa party, another Shi’ite group, is organized on the basis of Leninist methods. Shi’ite militias have infiltrated Iraq’s security forces and Interior Ministry, which has recently been implicated in the torture of Sunnis in two prisons.

In short, the now desperate Bush administration’s attempt to achieve “victory in Iraq” and pledge to take the Iraqi democratic experiment on the road to other autocratic Arab countries really amount to letting U.S. soldiers die to make the world safe for theocracy. In fact, such future theocracies in Iraq and elsewhere would likely be very unfriendly to the United States and might even sponsor terrorist attacks against U.S. targets.

Of course, the “victory” of installing a Shi’ite theocracy in Iraq is predicated on the low probability of the United States defeating the Sunni insurgency and avoiding a civil war, which is already beginning. That internecine war will likely be intensified by the new Iraqi constitution, which barely escaped a Sunni veto in the referendum on October 15.

The constitution gives the Kurds and Shi’a a greater proportion of oil revenues than the Sunnis because most of the petroleum lies in Kurdish northern and Shi’ite southern Iraq, respectively. In addition to attempting to evict the foreign invader from their land and having angst about likely paybacks from the Shi’ite-Kurdish government for the excesses of Saddam Hussein’s years, the Sunni insurgents are fighting because they fear being left in a resource-poor rump area. The constitution only passed because the interim government agreed to renegotiate portions of it after the vote. But now that the document has been approved, a newly elected and stronger permanent Shi’ite-Kurdish government will have little incentive to do so. So the feud over oil revenues will likely fuel the embryonic civil war.

To reduce the chances of such a conflagration, the constitution should be amended to partition Iraq into Shi’ite, Kurdish, and Sunni areas (all lands within these three or more areas do not have to be contiguous) and to proportionally share petroleum revenues or even oilfields with the Sunnis. To give the Shi’a and Kurds an incentive to reach an agreement to share oil, the United States would inform them that the U.S. military, which is the only thing propping up the Iraqi government, will be exiting quickly. The administration has dug itself so deeply into the Iraqi hole that no perfect solution exists to avoid the impending civil war. But this solution at least stops the digging and begins filling in some dirt.