Samar: What can the United States hope to do in order to minimize the intrusion of Iran in all sectors of Iraq, most especially in the Iraqi government? Would the United States prefer to see a Sunni government or a Shia one beholden to the Iranian government?

Omar: Which side are the Iraqi people and government more likely to choose, the United States or Iran? (Question submitted via RealClearWorld)

A: The Status of Forces Agreement already considerably limits Washington’s room to maneuver, and the United States also chose to do nothing to address the obvious attacks on the democratic process by the pro-Iranian parties during the recent de-Baathification of candidates. The United States still possesses some leverage related to Iraq’s debt to Kuwait and the Iraqi government’s desire to obtain U.S. military hardware; if used wisely, that leverage could be used to achieve institutional national-reconciliation aims in Iraq -- such as a revised constitution -- that in turn could help limit Iranian influence.

Nadya Lubman: What sort of outcome would Iran like to see in these elections? Which figures and parties, in particular, is it backing, and what sort of support or other tactics is Tehran using to bring about this outcome?

A: Ever since local elections in January 2009, Iran has worked to prevent the tentative alliance between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi nationalists that was emerging back then. The chief instruments here were the revival of an all-Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), and a renewed emphasis on de-Baathification as a defining issue in Iraqi politics. This, it was hoped, would help re-create a more sectarian atmosphere of the kind that existed in the last parliamentary elections, in 2005. So far, it has been relatively successful.

Brown N. Ugbaja: The Shiite government led by Maliki seems intent on giving itself the upper hand in the coming election. If it is able to consolidate control, is there any indication that the Shiites are willing to use their power to deepen democracy to benefit the country, or are they focused on extracting what one could call “reparations” for the marginalization that they suffered in the era of Saddam Hussein?

A: Sectarianism in Iraq is unlikely to be expressed in such crude form. The next Iraqi government will probably try to adhere to a rhetoric that sounds Iraqi nationalist, although in practice it is likely to promote Shiites and work to improve relations and coordinate policies with Iran.

Denis Marantz: What would the effect on Iraq’s long-term political future be if the country postponed legislative elections for, say, five years? A president could be elected now, and the country could prepare for its electoral future through municipal and party democracy. Might this have a better outcome?

A: I think it would be wiser to make an effort to have proper elections than to try to change the constitutional order.

Jeff: If the National Media Center (NMC) poll is true and 30 percent of the vote goes to Rule of Law, 20 percent goes to Iraqiya, 18 percent goes to the INA, and 10 percent goes to the Kurdish Alliance, what changes, if any, will there be in Iraq’s domestic and foreign policies and, more generally, political life?

A: The NMC polls are interesting in that last year they forecasted the rise of Maliki and the reasonably good performance of Iraqiya in the local elections. By looking at the results, one might think that this is biased toward Maliki and/or Iraqiya, but given the enmity between Maliki and Ayad Allawi, it seems unlikely that there is a systematic attempt by the NMC to inflate them both. The INA numbers seem low compared to what the coalition has achieved in terms of winning back Sadrists and the Ibrahim al-Jaafari faction of the Dawa, which supported Maliki in early 2009.

Kathy Stone: Are voters selecting parties or individual politicians? In the previous round of national elections, seats were awarded by party -- a process that was largely viewed as a failure, since it left little accountability. How will voting occur this round, and will there be similar problems in the legitimacy of those who gain seats in parliament?

A: The open-list system ensures greater voter choice this time. The same procedure was used in the local elections of January 2009, by which voters could promote their own favorites at the expense of party-leadership choices. Also, the quota of “compensation seats” that are awarded to party leaders to distribute as they see fit is much smaller this time, only seven seats. There is evidence from January 2009 that voters actually used the open-list structure to influence the ranking of candidates.

Kazushi Minami: Despite some violence, the political process of Iraq seems to be on track. Is this a hopeful sign for the survival of democracy in the Middle East, where there is basically no purely democratic state, at least right now?
If Iraq’s democracy succeeds or fails, will there be a so-called domino effect on neighboring countries?

A: There is nothing to suggest that the political process in Iraq is “on track” if you take a more detailed look. The widespread violations of the principle of due process in the exclusion of candidates under the pretext of de-Baathification are perhaps the best indicator of a political system in deep crisis. Only the most superficial analysis of what is going on would conclude that the current situation is democracy in progress.

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