Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Iraq's `Potemkin' government no font of optimism

General satisfaction with the elections may mean little if a growing storm of sectarian conflict cannot be contained

By Ian Bremmer

Gubernatorial elections in November will force Kurdish political contenders to offer opposing programs, and some candidates will seek electoral advantage via populist calls for independence. At the same time, cooler heads will struggle to postpone a potentially divisive referendum next year on the final status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

In fact, the friction generated by electoral politics is likely to stoke resentments within Shia and Sunni communities as well. There is a great danger that the new Iraq's sectarian politics will benefit those who promise their constituents the most -- at the expense of the central government and the country's other factions. Debates over possible constitutional amendments intended to pacify angry Sunnis and to de-fang the insurgency are likely to incite factional hostility as well.

More worryingly, when Shia, Sunnis, and/or Kurds decide that their elected officials are not delivering the promised perks and protections, they are likely to look beyond politics to advance their individual interests.

At that point, the future of an independent Iraq itself will be called into question. Any separatist moves by Kurdish leaders would bring Turkey into Iraqi politics.

At the same time, the protection that American forces offer Iraqi officials will diminish as troops are gradually withdrawn, and Iran will race to fill the security vacuum.

In sum, the Iraqi government may appear effective for much of this year, but it will be committed to trying to serve the competing interests of sharply divided constituencies.

Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Science

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