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What's the Old Saying About Elections Without a Government?

Iraq’s elections on January 30 were an impressive event, considering the danger to all parties involved. But the government that was supposed to be formed as a result of those elections hasn’t come to fruition. Is this just the byproduct of good old-fashioned political wrangling, or is the Iraqi experiment in trouble?

The elected members of the Transitional National Assembly (TNA) were to form the executive branch of the Iraqi Transitional Government (ITG) during their meeting on March 16, which they could not. Nor could they in their subsequent meeting today, March 29.

It's understandable, of course. The ITG is tasked with writing Iraq's constitution, which will shape the country's future government; no group is willing to give ground. Why would they?

Four main problems must be resolved, as Iraq scholar Phebe Marr noted recently: the Kurdish question; the role of Islam; the role of Sunnis; and how to remove foreign troops as quickly as possible without destabilizing the country. These questions must be resolved in the constitution-building process. It appears, however, that the main players are finding it difficult to overlook them long enough to form a government.

Although US government sources attributes the delay to the challenges of consensus building and not infighting, the calls from Shi'a lead Ali al-Sistani for the Shi'a and Kurdish groups to work together would indicate that the groups are having trouble working together (today's session was described by some as "chaotic").

Although the US has maintained an admirably hands-off approach to the entire process in Iraq, Bush's remarks today in the Rose Garden indicate that the Administration may be getting antsy. This is likely, especially considering the fact that Ghazi al-Yawar, Bush darling and former Interim President, has recently removed himself from the running for Speaker--and may in fact have left Iraq altogether.

The timeline set out for the ITG gives its up to 18 months to draft a constitution, but it contains no provisions for the chance that those deadlines will not be met. Most sides would agree that if consecutive deadlines are missed, the precarious glue holding the government together will begin to decay, and the insurgency will have the upper hand.

Will Bush & Co. remain laissez-faire if that happens? It's doubtful. They've got too much invested to allow their democracy experiment to go up in smoke. They'd rather steer the process themselves, risking the criticism of the American left and the international community, than allow it to collapse entirely.

Such a government, of course, will have a difficult time defending its legitimacy to its neighbors. The challenge for the US, then, is determining the point of no return.

Posted by schtaple at March 29, 2005 11:53 AM