The Iraqi Election

On the eve of the elections in Iraq, the country once again comes back into the focus of American media and policymakers. What will be seen is the complex process of how we form our government -- which will be messy and at times may appear chaotic. Within this limited view, the raucousness does not warn of disaster. It is merely the sign of a country continuing the difficult transition from oppression to democracy.

International onlookers said much about the viability of Iraq during the first national election in 2005. Many spoke of how the country would not last through the political process. They said an effective government would never form, and that outside forces would mire Iraq in sectarian violence. Slowly but surely a government did form and incremental progress has been made. And we have Iraq's federal constitution to thank, as it provided proper direction.

Our expectation is that Iraq's federal constitution will again guide us through this process, and as such it should be adhered to universally and completely -- providing stability during this election, as well as for the other disputes that threaten to undermine our unity and security.

The implementation of Article 140 will resolve the country's disputed territories. The passage of oil revenue sharing legislation, resulting in the equitable distribution of oil revenues, will lead to national unity. The checks and balances the document affords will ensure the next government does not recentralize and revert to dictatorial tendencies. It will also make sure the military is overseen responsibly, by civilians. The federal constitution is the very reason the Kurdistan Region is so committed to Iraq, and why we are confident in the contributions we make to the country's stability.

In the Kurdistan Region, we have rebuilt our infrastructure, gotten our oil flowing, and even have improved relations with neighbor Turkey based on burgeoning business ties. Last summer, we successfully held regional elections, hailed as "free and fair" by international observers and NGOs -- resulting in the election of a record number of women in the Kurdistan Region's Parliament. We still have much work to do, but are so far proud of the example we provide the rest of the country.

Iraq's second national elections, however, will be the most important balloting to date. This time, the political parties and candidates are fully vested in the system -- unlike in 2005, when the Shiites unified primarily under one coalition, the Kurds did the same, and Sunni Arabs boycotted. We now expect Sunni participation, while Shiite and Kurdistani parties will be competing under multiple and separate coalitions.

So for Iraqis, this election is going to be more intense than the last, as they understand there is much to lose if they do not participate. When the competition is more intense, the stakes are higher. We will likely see shortly some close outcomes, potentially leading to disputed results. Political sides will declare winners and losers. Passions will rise. This will create tension within the system and delays will result -- potentially lengthening the timeline for the formation of Parliament and selection of a Prime Minister. But this is healthy.

Even the United States has faced contested outcomes. The presidential election of 1800 saw dispute between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams -- representing the first true test of the nation's ability to pass peaceably from one partisan government to the next. Again a hundred years after that, in 2000, the American system was beset by dispute over the Electoral College and "hanging chads."

The difference for Iraq will be more than just time, however; it will be distance -- as much cultural as geographical. So alongside the iconic images of women with purple-stained fingers, we will likely soon see a lot of passion and vibrant behavior, including likely political stand-offs and heated debates. Given Iraq's tragic history, this can only be expected.

Americans should not despair over these scenes. It's possible that the conflict, confusion, bargaining and political horse-trading may lead to a delay. The complicated formula we must follow to form our coalition government almost necessitates it. A government, though, will be created: a president will be appointed, a parliament will be seated, and a prime minister will be chosen.

Through all of this, the American people can count on the Kurdish leadership to play a constructive role in forming Iraq's government. We are a friend of the United States, and have much to thank for as a result of American involvement and U.S. military sacrifice. The people of the Kurdistan Region will uphold the federal Iraqi constitution and uphold the rule of law--for the betterment of all of Iraq's people. We expect others to do so as well. And together, with the continuing support and deepening engagement of the U.S., Iraq will move forward.

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