The Daily Demarche
Friday, December 31, 2004
The El Salvador Model for Iraq
MEMRI is running a great piece by Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli on the upcoming elections in Iraq, citing an editorial in the Iraqi daily Al-Sabah that

"urged the Iraqis to vote despite the dangers of terrorism. It reminded them of the experience in El-Salvador in 1982 when that country, like Iraq today, was subjected to terrorist activities. Under popular pressure, the elections were held on schedule, and the election of a parliament and a new government was a turning point leading to the decline of terrorism. It says the example is applicable to Iraq and "the Iraqis should not be afraid of terrorism but, on the contrary, they should confront it because the terrorists are cowards when confronted with the will of the people."

Dr. Raphaeli also gives a very candid, lucid description of what Iraqi voters can expect to face on what promises to be a dangerous and perhaps confusing election day, and reminds readers that "the elections are not a magic wand that will solve the country's burning security issues and they will not necessarily lead quickly to democratic and stable government." (Note: Expat Iraqis will be able to vote outside of Iraq as well, including in the U.S.) He breaks down the risks inherent in the elections as follows:

  • Attacks on even a few polling stations on polling day may deter many Iraqis from voting.
  • An abstention of the majority of the Sunni population from voting may create, under the proportional representation system, a lopsided Shi'a majority in the National Assembly which could call into question the legitimacy of the results.

  • The leading list sponsored by Ayatollah al-Sistani heavily represents Shi'ite parties with strong connections to Iran. It is yet to be determined whether these parties, once they gain the majority in the National Assembly, will follow an independent nationalist course or will fall prey to Iranian ambitions and schemes for Iraq.

  • It is too soon to discount the possibility that the Kurds may boycott the elections if their demands to declare Kirkuk as a Kurdish city do not materialize.

  • There are approximately 26 candidates for every seat in the national assembly. One will be elected but 25 will be left out. Likely claims of fraud could undermine the results of the elections.

  • The vast majority of the Iraqi people have never participated in free and competitive elections. It has yet to be established whether the average Iraqi voter has the political maturity to exercise his/her right to vote in a responsible manner.

  • These are all very real issues that must be recognized. With the Sunnis withdrawing from the elections, OBL calling for a boycott and assassination attempts on Shia leadership, the probability of a viable electoral process grows smaller every day.

    In these crucial days the terrible tragedy that has befallen a huge swath of South Asia has dominated the news, and much of the world's attention has been shifted away from Iraq. While our humanitarian duties cannot be denied, we need to stay focused on Iraq as well. The situation is not helped by the behind the scenes "war of information" that is going on, resulting in often or dated information able to be relayed to the public.

    Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is traveling to Syria this week to discuss infiltrations of terrorists into Iraq, and reportedly visiting Turkey and Jordan (neighbors of Iraq) as well. This visit could be very important as we reach out to the Arab world, which is itself divided over the upcoming elections:

    "...the Sunni-dominated governments of Iraq's Arab neighbors have expressed deep unease at elections expected to usher in the first Arab Shiite government. In an editorial Tuesday, the pro-government Egyptian daily Al Ahram echoed concerns Sunni Arab Iraqis would be disenfranchised, which it said would lead to more sectarian violence."

    The similarities between the situation in Iraq and those in El Salvador in the early 1980's are many- terrorists control large areas of the country, the electorate is intimidated and the elections will occur to the soundtrack of gun fire and bombs. The outcome of this first free election will ultimately shape the future of Iraq as it did El Salvador, but it can also shape the future of the region in ways the 1982 election could not. For all that many critcs have decried the El Salvador model for Iraq, commonly asking why we do not want a more American model. Of course these are the same critics that accuse the U.S. of imperialism for trying to spread any democracy to the region. I can't imagine that any sane person would not want to see an "American" model in Iraq, by which I mean a stable democracy in which all peoples are represented and contested elections do not lead to sectarian violence. But for this election the people of Iraq need to find the courage to exercise their franchise- and if the spirit of El Salvador in 1982 helps Iraqis to "get out the vote" all I can say is viva la democracia!


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    dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.


    Proud to be counted among the members of the State Department Republican Underground, we are Foreign Service Officers and Specialists (and a few expats) who tend to be conservative. We believe that America is being misrepresented abroad by our mass media, and that the same mass media is in turn failing to report what the world thinks about us, and why. This site is dedicated to combing the news around the world, providing the stories and giving our interpretation, or "spin" if you prefer. Send me a good news story: dr.demarche AT

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