By Reidar Visser.
The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Iraq being Iraq, it refused to stand still for the start of the 10-year war anniversary. As Americans began marking the day when President Bush declared war, Iraqi newswires were awash with reports that local elections scheduled for 20 April had been postponed for a maximum 6 months throughout the country for security reasons. Subsequent reports qualified the initial once and said only the Sunni-majority governorates of Anbar and Nineveh would be affected, although there has so far been remarkably little in the way of official, written confirmation.
Nonetheless, the epic timing of this decision immediately raises questions that are highly relevant to the outpouring of punditry assessing the war: Was the derailment of elections simply the most symbolic indicator possible that Iraq’s transition to democracy has failed?
Not so fast. Some theories immediately thought the cancellation of the elections in Sunni provinces bordering Syria was a response by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki based on fear that radical Sunnis would come to powers in large numbers – thanks mainly to the general radicalization of the political atmosphere in those areas, which are seen as largely loyal to the Syrian opposition.
But there is evidence going back several weeks that local politicians in Anbar had in fact contacted the Iraqi elections commission IHEC exactly with such a postponement in mind. Subsequent to the news that the Iraqi cabinet had decided on a delay, those local politicians went on to express satisfaction about the decision to postpone.
To some extent, of course, this could be simply the result of some politicians fearing they would lose their jobs due to popular dissatisfaction. Turning to Nineveh, though, there is a different picture altogether. The outcry against the postponement has been loud there, and here Usama al-Nujayfi, the parliament speaker and brother of the Nineveh governor, condemned the delay.