Democracy and Post-War Iraq

May 21, 2003

Democracy and Post-War Iraq

The cardinal principle of political development is that in order to have a democracy, there first  has to be a state that possesses a monopoly over the means of violence.

The cardinal principle of political development is that in order to have a democracy, there first  has to be a state that possesses a monopoly over the means of violence.  In post -Taliban Afghanistan and post-war Iraq what we have witnessed is how the political vacuum can be filled by those who have the guns.  

Democratization of the Middle East is in our national interest, and the United States has both a moral and political obligation to Iraq.  To create and sustain a viable state in Iraq, we need to have more troops on the ground.  Currently, we have less than 150,000, and I believe we need at least 200,000 soldiers to implement conditions of peace and security.  If we don't want to see mischief from the Iranians and Ba'ath Party officials, we have to provide a degree of order and security.   

One of the rules of engagement is that sometimes some degree of toughness is required.  If we don't get security, we don't get democracy.  Thus policing is an urgent and crucial priority.  A new Iraqi police force will need to be constructed, and fairly rapidly, because occupying forces will be incapable of effectively policing people with whom they cannot communicate.  There needs to be a gendarme-type of force and it need not be primarily composed of Americans.  One possible interim arrangement would be to construct an international police authority drawn largely from soldiers recruited for this purpose from Arab states sympathetic to the mission of Iraqi post-war reconstruction.    

The success of this mission will depend largely on its legitimacy in the eyes of both the Iraqi people and the international community.  We cannot bear the financial cost of this mission alone; therefore, we should internationalize our presence.  Then we can stay longer and the mission will be more effective. In my opinion, this is a job for NATO rather than the United Nations.  

There is also an urgent need for "de-Saddamization" and "de-Ba'athification."  That is, identifying and arresting senior figures responsible for the political crimes of Saddam's regime, including leading figures of his Ba'ath party, while banning from post-war governance and politics, a larger number of people who played an active supporting role.  Democracy threatened by anti-democratic actors can and should defend itself. This is not undemocratic.  It wasn't undemocratic to ban the Nazi party and other such movements in postwar Germany.  One cannot ban everybody, but several thousand Ba'ath officials need to be banned from participating in politics.  

On the political side, sequencing is important.  Americans or the international community should not dictate to the Iraqis.  Rather, there should be consultations and participation of the Iraqis in an interim government. Kenan Makiya's report on this issue, "Report on Transition to Democracy in Iraq ," will be published in the July 2003 edition of the Journal of Democracy.  

Federalism is a good option for the future Iraq.  Here, we are not talking about the failed communitarian federalism of Lebanon but a territorial federalism. In this kind of federalism, limited but significant power would have to be retained by the center, along with strong constitutional provisions against secession, if this formula is to be accepted by Turkey and other neighboring states.  After all, Turkey was assured that United States and other international actors would make clear that they would not recognize or support any attempt at secession by a province or group of provinces in Iraq.   

A big challenge in Iraq is the management of pluralism. There is substantial literature on how to design an electoral system to provide incentives for different groups to participate in national governance. Proportional representation can be one of the solutions in Iraq.  Iraqis should be creative and they should look around for options from other existing systems.   

There is hope for democracy in Iraq, but in a context of the existing political vacuum and decompression as a result of the war, there is a lot of uncertainty on the political ground. Ten years ago, we would have been concerned about Marxist-Leninists underground movements that had survived the authoritarianism of the Hussein regime by their secretive structure.  Religious Shiite groups in Iraq today have the same cell-based political structure; they also have the funding and assistance from an ideological power like Iran.  It is groups like these that are the best positioned to take advantage of a political vacuum, since they have a degree of organization and a rigid hierarchical ideology that enabled them to survive the authoritarian regime.  Thus they are best situated to grasp power should elections be held right away.  

This is why we need time to build political parties and counter these groups. Therefore the passage to national political elections should be sequenced.  National political elections should not take place for at least two years to create breathing space for transition.  

Iraq might benefit from a proportional representation in small-sized districts, or from an Australian-style system of alternative voting. Either of these options induces the formation of broad, multi-ethnic parties that would campaign nationwide and thus slowly transcend the current religious and ethnic divisions in the country.  Any such regime, however, requires establishing political order and building institutions to protect the rule of law--institutions such as an audit commission, a human rights commission, an ombudsman's office, a counter-corruption commission and an electoral commission.  

A free press should be established and it is one of the most important things that the United States can do.  America can provide the expertise to train journalists.  Political parties should also be given time to develop. In the end, in my opinion, it will take about five years until conditions are right to have multi-party national elections.  

If there is sequencing, then the leadership in Iraq will not be taken over by a highly ideological party.  Sequencing is the best hope for democracy in the Arab world.  


Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is also professor of political science and sociology (by courtesy) at Stanford University and coordinator of the Democracy Program of the new Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford's Institute for International Studies.  This essay is adapted from remarks given at The Nixon Center on May 16, 2003.