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 Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq, has indirectly ordered fellow Shia to cast their ballots for representatives of the Shiite religious parties that now control the interim Iraqi government. A permanent Shiite-Kurdish government may prove even more intransigent than the interim government in addressing Sunni concerns about being cut out of Iraqs oil revenuesthus accelerating the incipient civil war in that nation.
The ever over-confident Bush administration, controlling the levers of authority in the globes 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 Shia population (60 percent of Iraqis) will reliably vote the way al-Sistani wants. In contrast, American voterseven fundamentalist Christian onesdont usually vote solely on the basis of their religious leaders political wishes (if they are expressed at all).
The Shiite 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 Husseins rule and fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. The partys militia, the ruthless Badr organization, has been accused of assassinations and other violence against Sunnis and secular Shia. According to foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter, the Dawa party, another Shiite group, is organized on the basis of Leninist methods. Shiite militias have infiltrated Iraqs security forces and Interior Ministry, which has recently been implicated in the torture of Sunnis in two prisons.
In short, the now desperate Bush administrations 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 Shiite 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 Shia a greater proportion of oil revenues than the Sunnis because most of the petroleum lies in Kurdish northern and Shiite southern Iraq, respectively. In addition to attempting to evict the foreign invader from their land and having angst about likely paybacks from the Shiite-Kurdish government for the excesses of Saddam Husseins 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 Shiite-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 Shiite, 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 Shia 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.