What’s next in Iraq?

Iraq held parliamentary elections yesterday. It is estimated that turnout was 62 percent, not bad at all under the circumstances (but with bombings and other forms of violence, the circumstances were bad).
No party came close to 50 percent, so there will be an extended period of post-election deadlock. Under Iraq’s constitution, a new government is supposed to be in place within a month after the election. Last time, it took five months and there’s little optimism that the task can be accomplished more quickly this time.
The prospect of such delay raises considerable fear that extremists will exploit this period, and that the result will be a deepening of sectarian rifts. These rifts, in turn, will present a major challenge when it comes to maintaining security. Meeting that challenge will be the job of Iraq’s security ministries. They will be tested.
Ideally, the U.S. would play a role in maintaining security until a new government is formed and has a chance to take hold. However, our forces are scheduled to be out of the country by August, and it doesn’t look like we’ll be involved much between now and then.
In light of the looming period of instability, we should push the withdrawal date back and vigorously assist with Iraqi security during the rest of the year. However, with various Iraqi leaders jockeying for support in putting together a new government, we can expect plenty of public demands that the U.S. leave on schedule.
As for the horse race itself, Michael Rubin reports that early estimates suggest incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki won perhaps a third of the vote with former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi second. Allawi is seen as more of a secularist than Maliki and less tied to Iran. On the other hand, he has ties with Syria and, when he was interim Prime Minister, his administration was plagued by corruption.
So Maliki and Allawi both leave much to be desired. But at least they are known quantities, and we were able to live with both. If a third choice emerges, and Rubin sees this as a possibility, it’s far from clear that either Iraq or the U.S. will be better off as a result.

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