Across the Bay

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Iraq and Elections

Mohammad Ali al-Atasi wrote a piece in An-Nahar's "Culture Annex" on Moqtada as-Sadr. Al-Atasi seems to agree that the best way to pop Sadr's bubble is to allow the Iraqis to vote him into his place. This is what Juan Cole has been arguing for, as evident from his testimony and his website.

Cole also featured a guest commentary by William Polk of the Carey Foundation. Polk made the usual gloomy remarks but again pointed to elections as the best way to go. The interesting bit though is that he talked about local government and local elections (as well as local development) as the most productive strategy:

"I think the best approach would be to reverse our emphasis on a national council and provide money and other forms of recognition and support to neighborhood groups. They can be helped to provide clean water, dispose of waste, open clinics and schools, provide protection against robbers, etc. and represent their constituents to the higher authorities. If the current situation is to be more than a hiatus between dictators, self-determination must begin there, at the grass roots.

For this, there is an old Middle Eastern – Muslim, Christian and Jewish – tradition. Quarters of towns and cities were expected to be self-governing and to maintain such facilities as schools, markets, public baths, clinics and places of worship. They taxed themselves and paid a lump sum to the government; they had their own police forces; and their leaders represented them to the rulers. That system has been weakened and partly supplanted by modernization, but elements of it remain and could again become vigorous in proper circumstances

I agree that the issue of sovereignty (local being the most tangible form) is crucial, especially in light of the very shady behind-the-scenes deals involving Chalabi and "soft" dictatorship (see Ackerman's post on his blog). I still hold that no way will people like Sistani let that happen and neither the US nor Chalabi can (or can afford to) muscle him (see this post by Juan Cole). The opinions quoted here suggest that the same medicine that will work with Chalabi will work with Moqtada, and that is elections. However, what exactly is the extent of Sadr's popularity on the local level, and how would that translate in areas that would fall under his control? Can this be divorced from national law and consensus should he decide to run shari'a in those areas?