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Military Success, Political Stalemate: Peace and Security are More Important than Democratic Government when Moving Forward in Iraq

September 26, 2007

Samarra, Iraq — While the significant military progress made in Iraq this year is being acknowledged (either triumphantly or begrudgingly, depending on political orientation) by those who have been paying attention, that country’s fledgling democratic government has thus far failed to make similar progress.

Myriad problems have plagued the Iraqi government, whose Shi’a majority has been hamstrung not only by its own attempts at unilateral policymaking, but also by a minority party which has refused to accept its new post-Saddam status. With its many factions unable to compromise, Iraq’s federal government has been under increasing fire for appearing to be no more ready to secure and govern its own country than it was two years ago.

As the security situation in Iraq is further improved, more pressure will be placed on the members of the federal government to rise above their differences and to work together for the good of a country that is desperately in need of domestic leadership. However, given the depth of division between those involved, it is not a foregone conclusion that a productive working relationship will ever be established. On the contrary: it is entirely possible that those involved, who by their nature understand the language of power over any other, and think of themselves as representative of their own tribes, sects, and clans rather than as part of a single unified country in whose success they have a vested interest, will never see eye to eye politically, and thus will never be able to generate the pragmatic working relationship necessary to govern effectively.

Should this latter possibility become reality, the first and most obvious step on the part of the coalition will once again have to be to revise its goals, as well as its definition of ‘victory’ itself. Where ‘victory’ in Iraq once meant leaving behind a country ‘at peace with its neighbors, with a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and an ally in the war on terror,’ a new standard would have to be set, and new priorities established, including choosing between the prospect of working exhaustively to make the current system of democratic government work, or focusing on establishing security ensuring a firm alliance with the West.

Due to the devastating consequences that would result from leaving a failed state in this part of the world, the emphasis that some would have the coalition put on trying to prop up a non-functional government must instead be placed on creating a secure territory which poses no threat to Israel or to the West.

One major concern is the fact that, should the government of Iraq fail, the resulting vacuum in the region would lead to far greater regional hegemony on the part of the Persian state to its immediate east, whose leaders have made very clear that Iraq would only be the first stop on their bloody march to the Mediterranean, and perhaps beyond. Iran is already fighting a proxy war on several fronts, both against Israel and, in Iraq, against the United States, and has repeatedly called for – and promised to bring about – the destruction of the former. Between the need to contain Iran and the fact that a failed Iraq would serve as an unregulated safe haven for the thousands of terrorists who have flocked (and are still flocking) there to fight against the coalition, the twofold mission in that country – should the government fail to function on its own – must be to maintain a significant coalition military presence, and to ensure the existence of an effective pro-Western government which can hold Iraq together while keeping out those who wish to subsume it into their spheres of influence.

While the coalition’s current course is working militarily, Iraq is still a terribly broken country, with a great deal of instability, unrest, and upheaval. Were the U.S. to leave at any point in the near future, the vacuum that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of in the very recent past (which his imperialistic Iran longs to fill) would become a reality. While social, governmental, and security services are being developed and improved, at this point the coalition is still the glue holding the nation together.

Successful and stable nation building is a very difficult and time-consuming undertaking. There is still a chance (perhaps a very good one) that Iraq can, in time, become an autonomous, pro-Western democratic state; that is certainly the best and most preferable of all possible outcomes. Further, governmental progress in Iraq is not currently stagnant; while the federal government remains deadlocked, local and provincial democratic governments are being established and developed to provide governance to the nation in the absence of effective leadership from Baghdad.

When evaluating priorities for that nation, though -- especially given the circumstances which led to the popular election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories, for example -- security, alliance with the west, respect for human rights, and refusal to harbor terrorists are far more important than democratic government. If the government in Iraq is unable to perform, then the need to have a stable state in the region dictates that it be replaced with a system that allows it to fulfill these most important of requirements.

Jeff Emanuel, a columnist and special operations military veteran, is currently embedded with the U.S. military on the front lines in Iraq. His reports, which are 100% funded by reader donations, can be seen at

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