I have read several feel good
pieces on the Iraqi elections and the future prospects for stability. I always take these optimist assessments with a grain of salt because generally the reality on the ground doesn't support the positivity. However, my anti-war bias aside, I can't deny that right now there does appear to be some justification for hope.
The elections last January were a farce in every sense of the word. Instead of trumpeting a new era, those elections only served to illustrate the inherent problems within the "new" Iraq. The Sunnis were marginalized and this only fueled sympathy for the insurgency and the accompanying anti-Americanism. When the usual suspects pointed to the success, it was easy to dismiss the claims as pure propaganda.
With the past failures in mind, it would be easy to look at the latest exercise in democracy with complete scepticism. However, given the massive participation of all Iraqis, the relative lack of violence and the potential prospects for how the results will unfold, it is not wild idealism to see a glimmer of hope. There are a myriad of ifs, and the situation easily unglued, but there does exist some potential:
A leading Sunni politician on Saturday reaffirmed his party's commitment to being part of a coalition government and thanked insurgent groups for refraining from attacks during this week's parliamentary elections.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, a former Islamic studies professor who heads a Sunni Arab bloc expected to have a voice in the new National Assembly, said a power-sharing government was important to "safeguard the rights of Iraqis."
Earlier he predicted that Shiite religious parties will be unable to form a government -- even though they are widely expected to take the largest number of seats. That would open the door to a coalition of Sunnis, secular Shiites and Kurds, al-Dulaimi said in an interview Friday.
If you accept the premise that the Shia religious parties fail to form a government, it does leave a grand opportunity for a coalition government with a high Sunni participation. It is reasonable to assume that a political process that affords the Sunni some control would weaken the insurgency.  Evidence of Sunni will to engage in the political process was clearly demonstrated when insurgent groups stood down to allow voting:
U.S. officials see al-Dulaimi, who leads the Iraqi Accordance Front, as a possible intermediary who could persuade some Sunni-led insurgent groups in restive Anbar province to join the political process.
Al-Dulaimi thanked insurgent groups for keeping to a pledge not to carry out attacks during Thursday's elections. Sunnis Arabs had boycotted the Jan. 30 elections, many heeding a warning by such groups not to vote.
"The resistance groups committed themselves not to attack but to protect voting centers and not allow any other group to attack them. They kept their promise and we thank them for this," he told a news conference.
In an Internet statement Friday, the Islamic Army in Iraq, a major insurgent group, said it was responsible for the absence of widespread election violence because it wanted to avoid harming Sunni Arab voters.
You could argue that the mere fact that insurgent groups have the capacity "to allow" voting speaks to their power. But, by allowing fellow Sunnis to vote, it is also an admission of the general will of the people to engage in the process. The key will be how this leap of faith translates into power. Even if a coalition develops that involves significant Sunni participation, it doesn't equate to an immediate end to the insurgency. But, a successful government will lessen support for violence and provide reasonable optimism. I think in general Sunnis realize that their era of dominance is over and now seek a viable alternative.
Another if, and this is the essential part. If a coalition government forms that is representative, it is essential that it be accompanied by a significant withdrawal of American forces. Even the military now admits our presence fuels the insurgency, and obviously emboldens the Al Qaeda elements. A two pronged reality of increased power, accompanied by a lessening American presence offers the prospect for short term stability, relative to present conditions. Remove the occupiers and you lose a primary recruiting tool for all the violent elements.
A coalition government will provide hope for the immediate future. Whether that is realistic or not is quite debatable, but it does afford a window that America must seize. Withdrawal is the only tangible way to demonstrate self-determination and reveal our motives. If we remain, despite Iraqis will, we risk undermining the forces of democracy we so often applaud.
Whether this election turns into another "myth of the purple finger" is impossible to answer. But, initially, there does appear a small glimmer for hope which didn't exist before. All liberals hope the Iraqis do have a peaceful future, we do not relish the violence to support our arguments against this war. Today at least, there is possiblility, and that is progress because it has generally been in short supply. I have no faith in our government, but I still hold out hope for Iraqis.