After the Iraqi elections, still on course

Iraq's election day went off remarkably well. Despite some scattered and tragic violence, there was nothing like the kind of devastating violence threatened by a few insurgent groups and only scattered reports of problems in the electoral process. The de-Baathification shenanigans of Chalabi and al-Lami did some long-lasting damage to the credibility of state institutions and the rule of law, but not enough to cripple the elections. The relatively calm election day was overseen, it's worth emphasizing, by Iraqi security forces and not by U.S. troops -- something which I was often informed, over the last year, couldn't possibly happen. It did. This is simply excellent news, and a credit to the emerging capability of the Iraqi state. So now that election day is past, what now?

First, don't rush to speculate on who won or what it means. All the Iraqi lists are loudly claiming victory, but the truth is that no official (or even unofficial) results yet seem to exist. The anecdotal evidence still points to the pre-election speculation -- Maliki on top, Allawi a strong second, the ISCI/Sadrist Shi'a list fading -- but it's only anecdotal. It does make a difference who comes out on top, and who becomes Prime Minister - Maliki and Allawi, for instance, would have very different styles, as would Chalabi or some such. But at the same time, there's almost certainly going to be a coalition of some kind (fully inclusive or otherwise) and the differences probably won't be as stark as some people expect.

Everybody has been predicting that the post-election coalition maneuvering will be long and painful, and could create the kind of security and political vaccuum which caused so many problems in the first half of 2006. I suspect that this is wrong. Iraqis learned from that experience, and they've been spending the last half-year gaming out coalition scenarios. I think that we'll see some intense political jockeying, with escalating warnings of disaster which lead to some worried op-eds about how the U.S. must get involved to resolve the conflict. And then it will resolve itself, likely within a month. I could be wrong -- lord knows, Iraq is hard to predict -- but that's my sense. Check back in a month and we'll see.

The other main headline of the Iraqi election campaign has to be the overwhelmingly nationalist tone of all major politicians and the marginal American role in the process. The election campaign (as opposed to the results, which we still don't know) showed clearly that Iraqis are determined to seize control of their own future and make their own decisions. The U.S. ability to intervene productively has dramatically receded, as the Obama administration wisely recognizes. The election produced nothing to change the U.S. drawdown schedule, and offered little sign that Iraqis are eager to revise the SOFA or ask the U.S. to keep troops longer. Iraq is in Iraqi hands, and the Obama administration is right both to pay close attention and to resist the incessant calls to "do more." This doesn't mean ignoring Iraq -- the truth is, the Obama administration has been paying a lot more attention to Iraq than the media has over the last year. It means moving to develop a normal, constructive strategic relationship with the new Iraqi government, with the main point of contact the Embassy and the private sector rather than the military, and adhering in every way possible to the SOFA and to the drawdown timeline.

Follow the Middle East Channel for a lot of analysis of the Iraqi election in the coming days!


Marc Lynch

The Middle East Channel is Born!

Welcome to the Middle East Channel

Some of you may have wondered why I haven't been posting much lately.  Part of the reason is that I've been working hard on putting together the Middle East Channel at ForeignPolicy.com.  Creating this site has been my dream for a long time.  With today's launch, it's finally come true, after half a year of hard work, with the enthusiastic support of the leadership at Foreign Policy  and a vibrant partnership with Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah's Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation.  It's also sponsored by the Project on Middle East Political Science, a new network of political scientists specializing in the Middle East which I have been putting together with the support of a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation -- much more on that soon! 

I can't think of a better way to explain what we're trying to than to quote in full the "Welcome" post which we've put up to announce the Middle East Channel:

The world is hardly lacking for opinions about the Middle East. But quantity should not be mistaken for quality: Too much of the public debate about the issues of the Middle East is dominated by partisan bickering and poorly informed punditry.

Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel is something different: a vibrant and decidedly non-partisan new site where real expertise and experience take priority over shouting, where the daily debate is informed by dispassionate analysis and original reporting all too often lacking from the stale and talking-point-laden commentary that sadly dominates most coverage of the region today. Its contributors range from academics to former policymakers, from journalists on the ground to established analysts -- with an emphasis on introducing voices from Middle East itself. Most importantly, the Middle East Channel comes to you doctrine-free, open to political viewpoints of all kinds -- but demanding honesty, civility, and genuine expertise.

Our scope is broad: Israel and its neighbors, Iran's nuclear program and domestic politics, Iraq, Islamist movements, the Gulf, Turkey, and North Africa, and the struggle for reform and democracy. The Middle East Channel will highlight links between issues and areas of this diverse region of 400 million -- as well as provide a unique perspective on America's challenges there. We'll have regular interviews with Middle East and Washington players, sharp commentary on the news of the day, and original analysis of new ideas and trends in the region.

The Middle East Channel is edited by Marc Lynch of George Washington University and the Project on Middle East Political Science and Amjad Atallah and Daniel Levy, co-directors of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation. Lynch, who writes the Abu Aardvark Middle East blog on ForeignPolicy.com, is an expert on Arab media and politics and is the author most recently of Voices of the New Arab Public: Al-Jazeera, Iraq, and Middle East Politics Today. Atallah is an expert in the law of conflict and post-conflict situations and a former advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team. Levy was an advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and is a leading commentator on Israeli politics and Middle East peace.

You can follow the site on Twitter, sign up for our RSS feed, and subscribe to our twice-weekly email updates to get the latest on what's happening on the Middle East Channel and beyond.

I'll still be blogging here under my own name, while co-directing and co-editing the Middle East Channel.  Feel free to send me your ideas for stories or feedback.   Here we go!