They Voted for One Iraq
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Fri Feb 13 15:44:18 UTC 2009
They Voted for One Iraq
Adil Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker | February 12, 2009
Foreign Policy In Focus www.fpif.org
(Editor's Note: This op-ed was originally published in the Baltimore
Sun on February 10, 2009.)
The recent provincial elections in Iraq confirmed the national
identity of the Iraqi people. Voting overwhelmingly for nationalist
candidates, Iraqis voted to keep Iraq together as one - an outcome
that defies the predictions of many.
Myths and distortions about Iraq's history have been used to promote
arguments for a divided Iraq. Peter Galbraith, in an October op-ed in
The New York Times, claimed that Iraq has an "absence of a shared
identity … [and] there was never shared national identity." While
Iraq's current borders derive from arbitrary boundaries drawn by the
British after the First World War, people within these borders have
lived for more than 1,000 years with an identity shaped by their
proximity to Baghdad, a shared language and a shared literary,
political and social culture.
Nevertheless, many believe that Iraqi identity is defined more by
ethnic divisions than national solidarity. This conclusion is an
example of how ideology trumps facts — especially from those who know
Iraq only from the relative comfort of American soil.
It is easy to forget that the division of Iraq into three regions was
perpetrated by the laws placed upon Iraq by the U.S.-backed Coalition
Provisional Authority. The resulting sectarian divisions created the
atmosphere for promotion of the "soft" partitioning of Iraq along
sectarian lines, as promoted in recent years by Joe Biden before his
selection as Barack Obama's running mate.
Yet in these elections, Iraqis defied such cynical expectations,
voting for the Iraq they know - one based on a strong central
government, not sectarian divisions. It is an Iraq where secular
interests are primary and religious interests secondary. Looking to
the future, Iraqis pushed aside the divisions that would create a
permanent war zone. Iraqis voted in this election in a way similar to
Americans in our most recent election: looking to leaders who will
bring their nation together in the best interests of all of its
The election was held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki's party won a plurality in the two major cities of
Baghdad and Basra and did well in many of the other provinces. The new
Arab nationalist party won nearly 50 percent of the vote in the
Nineveh province. Muqtada al-Sadr's party was the second-largest
vote-getter in Baghdad and the south. As some had expected, Mr.
al-Sadr won because he advocated nationalist sentiments more than
religious sentiments. Finally, the biggest loser in Baghdad and in the
south was the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, suspected of
pro-Iranian sentiments and advocating an autonomous Shiite south.
The result of this vote demonstrates a rejection of the influence of
Iran or the U.S. Iraqis never wanted an occupation and never will.
They are reasserting themselves by voting as an autonomous nation, not
one controlled by the interests of occupiers.
However, the success of Prime Minister al-Maliki's party, friendly to
the U.S. and strongly nationalist, shows that Iraqis are willing to
reach out to America despite the occupation. And why not? America has
a lot to offer once it respects Iraqi sovereignty and complies with
the total withdrawal of troops promised in the Status of Forces
Agreement signed by both nations last year.
The invasion of Iraq has had disastrous consequences, but it also
created opportunities. Now Iraq has spoken, and we must listen. We
should leave Iraq completely, as President Obama promised during his
campaign. Whether it is within 16 months or two years, we should
continue to withdraw our troops, demonstrating our clear intention to
leave and hastening the momentum of Iraqi nationalism.
Despite invasion and occupation, Iraqis are ready to move forward, and
will do so with their national interests in mind. With the turning of
this tragic page of history, let us assert our moral responsibility by
demonstrating respect for the independence and freedom of the Iraqi
Adil E. Shamoo, a native of Iraq, is a professor at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine and a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in
Focus. His e-mail is ashamoo (at) umaryland (dot) edu. Bonnie Bricker,
a teacher, writes occasionally on issues of public policy. They are
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