On Tuesday, February 18th, I had the pleasure of hearing Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, speak at American University. The event drew a crowd of around twenty people, most of whom were professors or academics from the university. The ambassador spoke for thirty minutes, accompanied by a slideshow, and subsequently took audience questions for about ten minutes.
The talk focused on Iraq’s democratic transformation. Beginning with tales of Iraq in the Ba’athist era and stretching up until present day, Ambassador Faily argued that the legacy of dictatorship has had a major impact on Iraq’s democratic development. He described how the many years of dictatorship in Iraq have lead to an ongoing challenge of creating a democratic culture. In many ways, the ambassador’s talk was a progress report on where Iraq is in its transition away from dictatorship towards a democratic society.
Highlighting Iraq’s progress, Ambassador Faily pointed to Iraq’s three “free and fair” parliamentary elections that have taken place since 2003. In addition, he argued that Iraq has successfully established a government that respects human rights and is both transparent and accountable. Furthermore, the Ambassador spoke of the Iraqi people’s desire for democracy, supported by strong voter turnout across the country (averaging around 60% in successive parliamentary elections since 2003).
After being asked about the impact of violence from Al-Qaeda linked groups in Iraq, Ambassador Faily conceded that violence is hindering Iraq’s democratic process, but it is not stopping it completely. He downplayed the sectarian dimension of this current conflict, arguing that Sunni political officials want to be an integral part of the government and that both Shias and Sunnis are victims of Al-Qaeda-linked violence.
Indeed, all Iraqis, regardless of ethnicity and religion, have suffered from and are potential targets of violence from al-Qaeda-linked groups. At the same time, Toby Dodge, Juan Cole, and other close observers have argued that sectarianism, which had been greatly exacerbated with growing regional tensions over Syria’s civil war, and the lack of progress in national reconciliation are contributing factors in the violence.
Ambassador Faily’s lecture left me with with some unanswered questions that I believe are fundamental to Iraq’s democratic development. What does the lack of national reconciliation mean for democracy in Iraq? How can the Iraqi government work towards national reconciliation? Finally, what does the United States need to do to help aid Iraq’s reconciliation and reconstruction?
This upcoming April, Mr. Maliki will run for a third term as Prime Minister, leading many people to question his commitment to democracy. This begs the additional question: what effect will Mr. Maliki’s desire to stay Prime Minister of Iraq have on the institutionalization of democratic governance and culture in Iraq? While the answers to these question aren’t completely clear, Ambassador Faily suggested that the first step is creating mutually beneficial relations between Iraq and the United States. This is something EPIC supports wholeheartedly.