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Iraq's Historic Debate By: Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 25, 2005

On the same day that terrorist mastermind Abu Mus’ab al Zarqawi declared holy war on democracy, six principal Iraqi leaders appeared in their nation’s first televised electoral debate, broadcast live throughout Iraq by Alhurra Television. The contrast between naked jihadism – calling for the assassination of free choice and democracy (campaigning with ideas and words) – was never clearer. As the candidates took the stage, Zarqawi’s dark dispatch from the underworld, and all the hate and threats it carried, disappeared – if only for a moment – under the klieg lights of this first-of-its-kind forum.

The participants represented six major tickets (essentially coalitions of parties). Iraq’s future assembly will have 275 seats. More than 4,000 candidates have assembled in “coalition lists,” representing ethnic, ideological and political interests – the single largest bloc of candidates in the modern history of the Middle East. The participants in the televised debate, which took place in Baghdad this weekend, represented the major leading “blocs.” In their opening remarks they proclaimed their “main principles of action.”

Jawad al Maliki, representing the Iraqi United Coalition (al I’tilaf al Iraqi al Muwahad) emphasized the necessity of elections: “Those who called for it are larger in numbers. Those who wanted to postpone them feared the terrorists, and those who wanted to cancel them, are the terrorists,” he said. It’s worth noting that al Maliki represents an Islamist Shiia party. He concluded that elections are the beginning of the solution not the end of it. 


Hajim Husseini, representing “Iraqiyun,” or the ticket “Iraqis,” said most Sunni Arabs are not boycotting. Instead, they are under terrorist threat. He added that after elections Sunnis will be integrated into the national government.


Dr. Adnan Pashaji, a Sunni leader from the dimucratoyeen al mustaqileen, or the “Gathering of Independent Democrats,” did admit to having political reasons for calling for the postponement of the elections.  He hoped he would convince more of his community to participate.


Dr. Ibrahim Salih of the Tahaluf al kurdistani, or “Kurdistani Alliance,” reminded the viewers that elections are not happening in an ideal situation. “We are facing international terrorism and the former regime forces. The main Iraqi leadership decided to go for elections to move forward, but there will be mechanisms to absorb those who won’t be able to join us, including a referendum next November.”


Qassim Daoud of the al Qai’ma al Iraqiya or “Iraqi ticket,” said elections are needed to establish a national authority.


Hamid Majid Musa, representing Ittihad al Shaab, or “People’s Union,” strongly supported the holding of elections. Expressing the aspirations of most liberal forces in Iraq, he said elections now are better than no elections.


The debate covered several subjects, with seven standing out:


1. Sunni participation and civil war:  All candidates agreed on absorbing Sunnis after the elections with a strong consensus that civil war won’t be allowed.


2. Security and Iraqi War on Terror: Maliki called for new security agencies and popular responsibility. Musa warned of infiltration. Husseini criticized the disbanding of the army. Salih, referring to the Kurdish experience since the 1990s, insisted on “Iraqization” of security. “Coalition forces will stay as needed, but cities should be under Iraqi security.” All candidates vowed to uproot terrorism from Iraq.

3. The form of the new government: Husseini said it was a mistake not to create a federal government when modern Iraq was formed in1921, and that it will be addressed in 2005
. Salih maintained that consensus is the basis of any system and proposed a federal state. Musa insisted on a republican-democratic constitution. All agreed on the pluralist identity.


4. Perhaps the greatest consensus was on democracy itself: The six candidates pledged full support to liberty and human rights. They competed as to the means. Maliki prescribed a new political culture based on the consciousness of democracy. Pashaji declared democracy as a part of the constitution, a sort of an Iraqi “First Amendment.” And along with Salih, he insisted that it should be defended by the people.


5. Role of Islam: Candidates had different takes, but most of them admitted it is part of the new Iraq. Maliki proposed to send the matter to the new assembly. Husseini and Salih spoke of the values of religion that would influence religion but rejected a religious state. Pashaji reminded that the current legislation deals with the issue, while Daoud saw Islam as a religion of state.


6. Baath Party: Candidates differed on it. Husseini called the eradication of the Ba'ath Party a mistake. Pashaji endorsed the dismantling of the Ba'ath Party but not the eradication of Arab identity. Salih distinguished between de-Baathification as a purification of bureaucracy and eradication of the Ba'athists. He proposed a “road map to absorb them.” 


7. Women: In an amazing volley of statements all six politicians lent support to “an increasing role for women.” It’s simple: Iraq’s female population is the single largest voting bloc across ethnicities.


Iraqi democracy made an auspicious debut. Common grounds were established, including national consensus, war on terrorism, democracy and inclusion. Cultural and spiritual issues are and will continue to be subjects of debate. Even before Iraqi’s polls open, two things are clear: Iraqis will win their elections, and the terrorists are now at war with Iraq's most important achievement: Democracy.

Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.

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