How to Build a Democratic Iraq

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

Thus far, most of the endless talk about the war in Iraq has focused on several issues: the scale of the operation, Washington's motivation, and the rift in the Atlantic alliance. It is now safe to assume, however, that if and when war comes (as of this writing, the battle had yet to begin), the United States and its allies will win, Saddam Hussein and his cronies will be toppled, and some sort of massive military occupation will follow.

In the aftermath of the war, the occupiers will focus on immediate tasks, such as ensuring order, providing relief to the long-suffering Iraqi people, and asserting control over the country. Very quickly, however -- even before they have met these goals -- the victorious powers will have to answer another pressing question: How, exactly, should they go about rebuilding the country? Saying simply that postwar Iraq should be democratic will be the easy part. Just about everyone agrees on that, and indeed, for many this end will justify the entire operation. The more difficult question will be how to make it happen.

Fortunately, the job of building democracy in Iraq, although difficult, may not be quite as hard as many critics of the war have warned. Iraq today possesses several features that will facilitate the reconstruction effort. Despite Saddam's long repression, democratic institutions are not entirely alien to the country. Under the Hashemite monarchy, which ruled from 1921 until 1958, Iraq adopted a parliamentary system modeled on that of its colonial master, the United Kingdom. Political parties existed, even in the opposition, and dissent and disagreement were generally tolerated. Debates in parliament were often vigorous, and legislators were usually allowed to argue and vote against the government without fear of retribution. Although the palace and the cabinet set the agenda, parliament often managed to influence policy. And this pluralism extended to Iraq's press: prior to the 1958 revolution that toppled the monarchy, 23 independent newspapers were published in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra alone.

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