Early indications are that Nouri al-Malaki’s Dawa party has had a strong showing in the regional elections; the other big surprise is the revival of former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s secular list. What does it mean? Well, the message is oblique. These were regional elections, with only indirect influence on the national assembly (national elections will be held later this year). But you’ve got to say that the trends are very promising–there seems a real desire on the part of Iraqis for a strong central government and a coherent nation, which was inconceivable a year ago. The more federalist parties like ISCI, which favors a Shi’istan in the south (resembling the Kurdistan in the north), suffered at the ballot box.
What does it mean for us? Well, it doesn’t mean what Max Boot seems to think it means–a defeat for Iran. Sorry, but Iran wasn’t on the ballot. It is true that ISCI is the Iraqi party closest to Iran and it fared badly, but it’s also true the Maliki’s success–the best Dawa Party showing ever–came in large part because he wooed and won Muqtada al-Sadr supporters. As Eric Martin points out here, these elections do not yield themselves to simplistic interpretations.
One bit of good news is indisputable, though: Iraq seems to be moving along a promising path now. I still believe that the war was a foolish venture, creating far more problems than it solved (including an exacerbation of the troubles in Afghanistan, as the Bush Administration shamefully neglected that war)–and causing untold violence, casualties and heartache in the process. But there is a strong possibility now that we have seen our way through the worst of this situation and that Iraq may have a more peaceful, less tyrannical future. It also should mean that we can bring home our troops more quickly–maybe even in the next 16 months.
Update: It looks like Christopher Hill, one of our finest diplomats, will be the next US Ambassador to Iraq. Another excellent appointment.