Nothing is as good for stability as a hard-fought election,with real issues discussed,real power up for grabs,and real people involved. The pictures that the world has been seeing of Iraq over the past couple of weeks seemed to show that sort of election is underway; and they are massively,pleasantly,different from the images that we have been accustomed to coming in from that unfortunate country. Last week,the footage was of dust-covered election bunting,not dust-covered soldiers; of thousands in the street,but in normal party processions,not angry mobs; of political posters on the walls,not threatening graffiti. And the reality may well have lived up to the promise of the images,both in terms of the turnout and of the results.
The turnout was less in much of the Shia south than it had been in the previous round of elections,in 2005; but what more than made up for that was the overwhelming increase in turnout in the Sunni-dominated provinces. In Al-Anbar province,for example,once the stronghold of Islamist insurgents,the turnout increased from 2 per cent to 40 per cent. Both the turnout and the level of public engagement with the election process indicate that the Sunni-dominated provinces of Central Iraq,once considered too old-fashioned or angry for electoral politics,are nothing of the sort.
And,finally,the results have been extraordinarily interesting if for nothing else than for the rise of the party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki was a consensus choice for PM,and his party,Dawa,was considered a bit player. He appears to have parlayed his moment in the spotlight into sustained prominence thanks to keeping his government focused on getting the US out and getting infrastructure in. In Iraq,as in other places close to home,people go to vote over drains and stable peace is a useful by-product.