Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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Iraq after Hussein

Adeed Dawisha, a native Iraqi who teaches political science at Miami
University of Ohio, has an understandable interest in how to build a democratic Iraq.

He also has a forthcoming article in the January 2004 Journal of Democracy on the prospects for a democratic Iraq. Read the whole article, but here are some highlights, both good and bad:

The coalition forces have faced serious difficulties in Iraq, and these were apparently intensifying as the end of the year approached. But to portray these difficulties as definitively signifying the failure of the reconstruction or Iraqis’ rejection of the U.S.- and British-led coalition’s plans for their country would be a mistake, since it would mean unrealistically discounting many positive developments that augur well for Iraq’s future as a free, democratic, peaceful, and law-governed country. Iraq is obviously not out of the woods, but to pronounce the coalition’s effort a failure after just a few months of reconstruction following decades of dictatorship would be premature, to say the least....

In the early days after Saddam’s fall it was reported that one could buy five hand grenades for a dollar in the main markets in broad daylight. Some improvement had occurred by August, when the price had reportedly risen to $3 per grenade, though a bulk rate of $20 for ten grenades was also said to be available. Most of the armaments come from looted government arsenals: The CPA estimates that Saddam stockpiled a staggering 600,000 tons of arms and munitions. After six months of occupation, coalition forces had been able to destroy or secure no more than about 75,000 tons—or 12.5 percent—of the deadly stuff....

While the situation in Iraq gives rise to much concern, it is not by any stretch of the imagination desperate. Many observers, perhaps focusing too heavily on day-to-day media coverage, seem unable to shift their attention from the security situation to other developments in the country, many of which give grounds for optimism. Perhaps first among these is that Iraqis on the whole have chosen the path of peace. It is unfortunate that many in the Arab and Western press have bestowed on the perpetrators of attacks against coalition forces the grandiose label “the Iraqi resistance.” Such a categorization, whether purposely or inadvertently, creates an impression of a universal phenomenon supported by most Iraqis. Nothing could be further from the truth....

Probably the most encouraging development in Iraq has been the surge of activity at the level of local self-government and civil society. Most Iraqi towns and cities—including the major conurbations of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk—now have governing councils that have been chosen through consensual processes, often involving elections. In most cases these councils have run the affairs of their towns either in cooperation with, or independently of, coalition forces. The case of genuine “grassroots democracy” in Baghdad is particularly interesting. Suffering from widespread lawlessness, the city was still able in the fall of 2003 to form 88 neighborhood councils, which then in turn elected a 37-member council for the whole city.12 These councils will over time prove to be indispensable agents not only for political stability, but for the growth of a democratic political culture and institutional ensemble in the new Iraq.

Without a doubt, the mushrooming of local self-government councils
has been one of the major success stories of the occupation. Even those councils that have not been elected have been selected through peaceful and relatively (or even impressively) consensual means, in more than a few cases with initial advice and assistance from coalition military officers, and are providing scope for unprecedented amounts of open debate and citizen participation....

The mushrooming of political parties, syndicates, and newspapers
signals a nascent political pluralism upon which democracy can be built.

Go and give it a read. Dawisha is hardly Panglossian -- he just looks that way after you read Juan Cole for a while.

UPDATE: Dawisha is also quoted at length in this Peter Bronson column in the Cincinatti Enquirer. The highlight:

"In 18 months to two years, Iraq will be stable and democratic,'' says Adeed Dawisha, political science professor at Miami University.

"I am very confident this will happen. At the end of 2005, Iraq will have a freely elected parliament and government," says the Iraqi-born educator.

posted by Dan on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM


Congrats to Mr. Dawisha, as he clearly 'gets' the big picture of democratic movements: Ownership.

Cop-killer as civil hero? One can see how that can be construed.

Killing Officer Abdul Al-Nisra, who's kid goes to school with my kid and who ran-off the looter from *MY* property yesterday; and shooting up the local town hall that I helped build last weekend?
Not so easily construed...

In the Macro sense, the democratic 'meme' wins out for the same reason private space typically looks better than public space the world over: Whether it's property or process, ownership works.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]


Thanks for bringing this article and journal to our attention. I hope it is read widely, though I have serious doubts about that. Minds are pretty closed to new information that does not support one's presuppositions. For example, yesterday I was listening to NPR (bad habit) and an "expert" on the Middle East from Congressional Quarterly starts mouthing off about how "tribal leaders" in Iraq are sure to fight democratization as a threat to their power base. You're a political scientist, that make sense to you? In my historical research I have seen far more adaptation and cooptation of new "democratic" structures by old elites than the reverse (at least in the early stages of liberalization). When one realizes that it is not just bad information but bad presuppositions that we are up against, it does make for some serious heartburn.

posted by: Kelli on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

A very useful overview.

The Shia leadership seem to be playing an excellent long game - avoiding confrontation with the US or other Iraqi groups, keeping out the of insurgency, filling the power vacuum from the bottom up, generally not embarrassing Uncle Sam.

But I suspect you can't take the fact they're managing to beat the stereotypes and play it cool as an indication that they won't eventually act to take charge of their own destiny. As Paul Wolfowitz should understand, it seems...

posted by: John Smith on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

Fine note -- and especially about the neighborhood councils. In fact, the US should assist the local councils that are elected, with local council municipal bonds. Immediately. Loans to democratic groups.

So that the local councils have more monetary resources to solve their most pressing local problems -- and start the difficult process of satisfying excessive demands with limited budgets.

I hope he's right in 2005!

posted by: Tom Grey on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

I have heard Dawisha interviewed on local radio here in Ohio. He sounds like a very sensible and realistic guy.

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

a comment on Mr Dawisha's piece: nowhere in Iraq are local councils fully elected. Everywhere, they are very heavily dependent for money and support on Coalition civilians and military. This does not mean that they have not been critical of US/UK activities. But councils need a lot of work to become more representative, effective and, eventually democratic. As good as their relation with coalition personnel often is, it is equally bad with the local administration, in which allegedly lots of Ba'thists (surprise?) still work.

posted by: Christoph Wilcke on 12.16.03 at 11:47 PM [permalink]

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