A remarkable success, Iraq's national elections represent an important victory for both the Iraqi people and U.S. policies. Iraqi voters turned out in numbers that exceeded the most optimistic projections to demonstrate their determination to resist the intimidation of Islamic radicals and Baathist diehards opposed to democracy. This enthusiasm suggests that the United States is on the right track in Iraq. Elections, however, do not secure the future. They offer the promise of a better future. There is much still to be done for the United States to meet its legal and moral obligations as an occupying power. The Administration and Congress need to focus on the key security, political, and economic tasks ahead.
The Promise of a Better Future
Perhaps the most important implication of the elections is what it tells us about the prospects for successful conclusion to the occupation. Above all, the elections should stand as reminder of the nature of terrorism. Terrorists are terrorists because they can do little else to impose their will on others. They have neither the political nor military power to determine the course of events. In many places, such as Israel, Columbia, and Northern Ireland, places where terrorism has been endemic for decades, civil society moves forward today. Terrorists alone can't stop the progress of humanity. Iraq is also proving a case in point.
The elections also send a message to the American troops and the American people. Iraqis turned out in vast numbers to vote, despite the threat that they would be car-bombed in the street or murdered in the presence of their children. At one polling place in Baghdad, Iraqis insisted on voting despite a suicide bombing that left a nearby street littered with human remains. The courage they showed, the willingness to fight for their future, is probably the greatest thanks that Americans could hope for. The Iraqis have earned our further support.
The Way Ahead
America's mission, however, is far from complete. During World War II, U.S. occupation planners identified three critical tasks of a successful occupation: avert a humanitarian crisis, establish a legitimate government, and field domestic security forces capable of supporting the government. They called it the "disease and unrest formula." It is the right "to-do" list. In Iraq, here is what needs to be accomplished next:
- Stand up
competent domestic security forces as fast as possible. The
Heritage Commentary "Promise
for Iraq's Future" outlines what needs to be done.
- Support the
Iraqi political process. In "Stabilizing Iraq After the
Elections," Heritage's James Phillips argues that a
federated system of government offers the best hope for a stable,
democratic country and lays out a program to achieve that
- Promote economic freedom. The threat of humanitarian crisis has already been averted in Iraq. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for rebuilding Iraq, an effort that will largely be led and paid for by the Iraqis. In "Bolstering Freedom, Not Dependence, In Iraq," Phillips and Marc Miles argue that Iraqis needed to be liberated from Saddam Hussein's restrictive economic system, just as they were liberated from his tyranny. And as the entry on Iraq in The Heritage Foundation's 2005 Index of Economic Freedom reveals, the country still has yet to develop the free market economic policies and institutions necessary to sustain growth.
To assist in accomplishing these tasks, Congress should immediately approve the President's request for supplemental appropriations. The Administration must ensure that efforts to stand-up the Iraqi security forces are moving forward as quickly and efficiently as possible and make its top priorities in Iraq efforts that support the country's political and economic reconstruction.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security, and James A. Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies, in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.