February 15, 2005



SUBJECT: Robin Wright is Wrong

Yesterday, Washington Post senior foreign policy reporter Robin Wright’s analysis of the recent elections in Iraq (“Iraq Winners Allied with Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision”) ran on the Post’s front page. As the title to the piece suggests, Wright’s claim is that Iraqis “went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base – and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door.” But about the only thing right in that sentence is that the Iraqis “went to the polls.”

First, the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite coalition of parties, did well (48% of the vote and a small majority of seats within the new legislature), but not well enough to control formation of either the new government or the new constitution.

Second, because the Alliance did not win a decisive electoral victory, its constituent parties will have to form a coalition with either the Kurds and/or the Iraqi List, a party headed by current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Both groups are secularist and fully cognizant of the need to build a federal system which will protect civic and minority rights. And that Shiites, too, seem cognizant of this need. Indeed, the announcement of the election returns had barely been made before each of the parties began working the phones to sound out deals with their potential political partners.

As the Washington Post’s own editorial today points out: “Fears that Iraq’s new government will be monopolized by pro-Iranian factions bent on religious rule seem unfounded.” Indeed, the one Iraqi Shiite most likely to push such a radical agenda, Moqtada al Sadr, received only enough votes to get 3 of the legislature’s 275 seats.

Of course, the working assumption behind Wright’s analysis is that the Shiites in Iraq are in bed with the Iranian clerics. But the evidence here is thin and more than offset by the following facts: the Iranians have never had much luck in directing the Iraqi Shiite political agenda; the Shiites in Iraq are a diverse lot with no one dominant political philosophy; the Iraqi Shiites fought on behalf of Iraq against the Iranian Shiites in the 1980’s; and the top Iraqi Shiite religious leader – Grand Ayatollah Sistanti – has made it clear time and again that the Iranian regime is not a model for post-Saddam Iraq.

No doubt, Iran will continue to try to play a hand in Iraqi politics. And, no doubt, there will be some in Iraq open to their doing so. But, right now, their hand is a weak one and, contrary to Ms. Wright’s analysis, it’s actually weaker today than before the elections.