With U.S. Troops Leaving, Is Iraq a Democratic Country Now?

As the U.S. troop presence in Iraq continues to diminish, it is worth examining what sort of political system has been left behind. Is Iraq really a democracy as many officials in the Bush administration hoped it would be? Sadly, the answer to this question cannot be in the affirmative.

It is of course true that in March 2010, Iraq conducted elections recognized as free and fair by the UN. However, as Osama al-Nujayfi, the Sunni speaker for the Iraqi parliament, astutely observed, democracy is more than just about holding elections. In many of the other essential aspects of a truly democratic society, Iraq’s status is far from satisfactory.

Absence of rule of law: Most Iraqi politicians still think they are above accountability to the law. Illustrating this tendency is the case of the arrest warrant that was issued against Muqtada al-Sadr, whose followers form a key part of the ruling coalition, concerning his suspected role in the killing of moderate Shi’ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf in April 2003.

The case has now been dropped entirely, with the Supreme Judicial Council claiming that it had no evidence against al-Sadr or any reason to interrogate him. Bizarrely, the council’s spokesman, Abdul Sattar Bayraktar, is denying that there was ever an arrest warrant issued by an Iraqi court, additionally affirming that "no lawsuits exist originally against the leader of the Sadrist movement in the Iraqi courts." In fact, a senior Iraqi judge, Raed al-Juhi, issued an arrest warrant against al-Sadr in April 2004, and the al-Khoei family filed a lawsuit against al-Sadr at the Court of Najaf in 2003.

More generally, the political elite has continued to hinder investigations into corruption. Rahim Hassan al-Uqailei, head of the anti-corruption agency known as the "Integrity Commission," resigned last month in protest.

Persecution of political opponents: Following Obama’s announcement that all U.S. troops would be home for the Christmas holidays, reports emerged of a large number of arrests of "Baathists," with generic accusations of plotting to destabilize and overthrow the political system. As Reidar Visser points out, it is notable how local police sources seem obsessed with descriptions of alleged membership rank in the Baath party of those arrested. Some are said to have been firqa (low-rank) members of the Baath party, others shaaba (high-rank) members.