Sunday March 7, 2010 was a banner day for the people of Iraq, the U.S. and British leaders who supported the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and Hollywood-which at last rewarded a war movie about the American efforts to win that conflict. Although it is too early to know who will eventually emerge as the next Iraqi prime minister, the fact is that the March 7 election was fiercely fought, witnessed a relatively high turnout despite violence, and was monitored by thousands of international election observers who found no earth shattering violations (as was the case when Afghanistan held elections in August 2009). Aside from Lebanon, there is no other country in the Arab world with such a free and transparent electoral process. It is very much in American interests that whatever coalition emerges over the coming weeks, it be effective in diffusing the many problems that still bedevil the country, including questions about Kirkuk, sectarian violence and the agreement on laws to develop the oil industry. Ideally, victory for the alliance led by the former prime minister and secular Shiite Iyad Allawi would be the best for Washington, since he would be less susceptible to Iranian manipulation and more acceptable to the Sunni Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf states. But if the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, emerges with a winning coalition, he, too, has shown his independence from Iran and will be no pushover for the mullahs.
No one doubts the trouble Iraq still faces, but Sunday's election must surely provide some solace to former-President George W. Bush and former-Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as the current-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who only last week testified before the Chilcot Inquiry that he fully supported the war. Barack Obama, although opposed to the war, can be praised for continuing to sustain the U.S. military effort in Iraq, while at the same time taking tough decisions on increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, a move that seems to be showing some positive results.
If a stronger, more secure Iraq emerges from Sunday's elections, the long-term consequences for the region are far reaching and will provide a welcome counterbalance to the incendiary antics of Iran's poisonous leaders-especially Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who over the weekend announced that 9/11, like the Holocaust, was probably a fabrication. A strong democratic Iraq would also demonstrate to Syria's Bashar al-Assad (and his cronies in Hezbollah and Hamas) that the majority in the Muslim world are sick and tired of their violence and refusal to contemplate a realistic peace settlement to resolve the Palestinian problem. A strong, relatively pro-American Iraq would also make it easier for the three Sunni autocratic, but pro-American, states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to be more assertive in their support for a final peace settlement with Israel. Under these circumstances, the government of Israel itself would have to adapt and be more flexible on final status issues.
Finally, at last night's Oscar's, Kathryn Bigelow emerged as the first woman to be voted Best Director. This must be seen as a breath of fresh air; furthermore, her low-budget movie, The Hurt Locker, on the activities of a bomb disposal squad in Iraq, was named Best Picture, suggesting that even Hollywood is now prepared to give the Iraq war a second opinion.
Geoffrey Kemp is the Director of Regional Strategic Programs at The Nixon Center.