2005 December 20 Tuesday
Iraq Vote Splits Along Religious And Ethnic Lines

Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor reports on the preliminary election results which show Iraqis overwhelmingly voted for parties which represent religious and ethnic factions and secular national parties were the big losers.

BAGHDAD Stretching newfound democratic muscle upon their first chance to elect a full-term government, Iraqis overwhelmingly threw their support behind religious parties defined along sectarian lines and ethnicity.

A bloc of Shiite religious parties close to Iran has, according to results released Tuesday, attracted the largest percentage of voters.

Here in the capital, a national barometer because it is the most diverse of Iraq's 18 provinces, the United Iraq Alliance - religious Shiites who dominated the interim government formed in May - won about 58 percent of the vote.

A Sunni Islamist alliance comprised of politicians who have defended the insurgency campaign against US troops came in next, with close to 19 percent.

Trailing in third is Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was favored by the US and Iraqi moderates hoping to rise above the country's rising sectarianism. Mr. Allawi, billed as a man who could unite parties and crack down on terrorism, received less than 14 percent of the vote.

Three quarters of the Iraqi people voted for Islamist parties. According to the Bush Administration the United States is fighting in Iraq to prevent Islamists from coming to power through violence. Instead the Islamists are coming to power through the ballot box. American soldiers died for this Bush faith-based initiative. Sam Harris' view of religious faith is making more sense to me every day.

The Sunni Arabs see any election results in which they are the minority as an election which is illegitimate.

The rejection of the early results, the first set of which were released Monday, also raised the possibility that Sunni Arab politicians could boycott the political process, as they have done several times in the last year.

The Bush administration's plans to temper the Sunni-led insurgency and reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq are based on the assumption that Sunni Arabs would participate in the new government. Any withdrawal by the Sunnis at this stage would be a serious setback for the White House.

"In order for Iraq to succeed, there has to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian cooperation," Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said Tuesday.

The obstacles in the way of such cooperation are insurmountable.

The many Iraqi Sunnis who insist that Sunnis are really a majority in Iraq (not in the links above) demonstrate the depth of the delusions of Arab minds. In their model of the world they are the rightful rulers. All "facts" are adopted to support that view. A Western Enlightenment view of an objective reality independent of our beliefs just doesn't enter into their style of reasoning.

On the bright side the leaders of the religious parties coming to power in Iraq favor a US withdrawal from Iraq. The Bush crowd will feel increasing pressure to declare victory and bring home the troops. That will leave Iraq in the hands of democratically elected Islamists. But since the Bush Administration and the neocons insist that democracy is the solution for what ails the Middle East we can not hope for a better outcome.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 December 20 09:48 PM  Mideast Iraq Ethnic Conflict

Randall said at December 21, 2005 10:00 AM:

People voting based on ethnicity?!

Good thing the liberal tradition of Western Civilization is hard at work minimizing that counterproductive tendency over here.

Confederate Yankee said at December 21, 2005 11:45 AM:

Respectfully, I think you miss the point. Bush never said we were at war with Islam, but with radical Islam.

The only "faith-based initiative" American soldiers are dying for is representative Democracy, and no person should think Iraq has to perfectly mirror our own government to still be viewed as wildly successful as the first Islamic democracy.

Quite frankly, they might be better off, if they can avoid a Teddy al-Kennedy...

Ivan Kirigin said at December 21, 2005 12:35 PM:

The question isn't whether split votes on ethnic lines are bad.

The question is whether minorities will get violent if they refuse to capitulate to the majority.

My guess is that the answer is no. Parker probably disagrees.

momochan said at December 21, 2005 2:02 PM:

Well said, RP. What with democracy having been recast as the reason for our invasion (WMD and links to AlQaeda having been disproven), the phrase that leaps to mind is "You'd better be careful what you ask for because you just might get it." People can vote themselves right into a theocracy. "Democratic" is not synonymous with "pro-Western", "free", or even (unfortunately) "stable".
I read that the Shiites have a majoritarian understanding of democracy -- in other words, quantity rules. If they have little idea of constitutional rights of the minority, then it's going to be very difficult to have a truly pluralistic system that hangs together. I would be pleased to be proven wrong in Iraq's case, though.

FriendlyFire said at December 21, 2005 2:06 PM:

[i]Quite frankly, they might be better off, if they can avoid a Teddy al-Kennedy...[/i]

Maybe they can vote themselves a G.W Al-Bush

Stephen said at December 21, 2005 3:07 PM:

Its winner take all in that part of the world. Holding office is merely a licence to stick your snout in the public trough and use your power to settle old (even multi-generational) scores.

Western Democracy has much more to do with the philosophy of government than with particular structures.

My guess is that Africa will have thriving democracies before the middle east manages it.

Randall Parker said at December 21, 2005 9:28 PM:


You speak using the future tense when talking about them getting violent. Why?

Hugh Angell said at December 22, 2005 4:52 PM:

" Oh what gift the giftie gie us,
to see ourselves as others see us."

Or so said the Scotish poet.

And what would Iraqis make of a US election in which a Barney Frank is elected to high
public office? Or a Barbara Boxer? " My opponent's wife is a 'thespian' who 'masticates'
before her family" was a successful campaign speech not so long ago in the USA. I suppose
in America's negro ghettoes the political rhetoric even, today rises, no higher.

Well to remember, democracy is not a guarantee of 'good government' only of a temporary
government amenable to change at the discretion of the voters. A charlatan like Bill
Clinton can be elected and even reelected but... a 'constitution' limits his ability to
pervert the political process even if it cannot prevent his personal descent into perverted

Can Muslims manage this? It is the great geopolitical question of the 21st century. The
answer needs to be known for it will decide whether the 21st century will be as bloody as
the 20th. Bush is right to seek the answer now before the demographic and military balance
changes to our disadvantage in the coming decades.

Got a problem with that RP?

Dan Morgan said at December 22, 2005 7:32 PM:

Randall, you are the war critic that I most respect. But I would like to point out that less than 100 years ago women still could not vote in the U.S. It also took a long time until women even had full property rights in the U.S. Jim Crow laws were widespread in the south until the 2nd half of the 21st century. For that matter, slavery was around for nearly 100 years after the U.S. was founded.

This shows that functioning democracies are possible even if their are considerable violations of civil liberties and rights going on. Indeed, the U.S. was a stable functioning democracy for the first half of the 19th century, but with slavery allowed and women could not vote.

So I would say that a heavily Islamic-influenced government is possible with a form of democracy that can steadily improve itself over time. A western democracy is not needed in Iraq - just very basic freedoms (like the freedom of speech and press) and a stable election process that is embraced by the vast majority of citizens and the elites of Iraq. Once this is routine, democracy (and the stealth invasion of western culture) will gradually expand freedoms and rights in Iraq.

I may sound naive, but this is really what I think will happen. But of course, none of us knows for sure what will happen.

gcochran said at December 22, 2005 8:30 PM:

Over the last few hundred years, Moslem countries haven't mattered much. I see no reason to think this will change in the next generation. The people who think that they are a serious threat, or on their way to beign a serious threat, are simply mistaken.

Randall Parker said at December 22, 2005 8:41 PM:


We should also try hiring witch doctors and see if they would help before the demographic balance shifts against our favor. Oh, and we should try mass Transcendental Meditation too. What if they could work and we never tried them?

I'd take Bush's strategy a lot more seriously if he was willing to implement defense in depth. You know, extremely restrictive rules on visas and immigration. Heavy internal enforcement against illegals from the Middle East. That sort of thing. If our situation vis a vis the Muslism was so dire then why count on just the invasion of Iraq and a ridiculous plan to reform Arab culture with democracy?


In the 1830s and 1840s the states reformed their laws to give women full property rights. Women in the wild wild west worked as sheriffs and other roles that were traditionally male. Women have always been free to walk down the street on their own. We never outlawed women driving cars or women walking around without head covering and didn't have cultural structures against these sorts of activities either.

Islam is a different religion that Christianitiy. The differences really do matter. So do the differences in IQ. So does the practice of cousin marriage.

You are assuming that Iraq will stay a single country. I do not expect that. I expect continued de facto Kurdish independence which expands in its extent till it becomes de jure. The main thing that is keeping the Sunnis in at this point (aside from US troops) is the fact that they want the oil money from the oil fields that are in Shia lands. They do not feel a deep common loyalty.

Plenty of countries have gone from democracy to tyranny. Some have had civil wars that started as a result of elections. The advocates of democracy miss all the attempts at democracy that have ended in coups and civil wars. See my post "History Of American Interventions Bodes Poorly For Democracy". Why is Haiti still a basket case? We've occupied the country many times, some times for years. The earlier interventions (early 20th century) were far more thorough than the later ones (back when people were willing to accept the idea that some races couldn't rule themselves well) and yet what was built up and the level of civility and law abidingness got destroyed after we left.

Anyone paying attention to Sri Lanka? The rebels are now far more keen to start fighting again because of the recent presidential election outcome there. Many elections in Africa have been the precipitating events for coups (e.g. Algeria) and civil war.

Just because we do not know for sure what will happen does not mean it makes sense to embrace fanciful beliefs about the future. Look at all the details about the past. The mythical past supports the Panglossian view. But the real past does not.

Hugh Angell said at December 23, 2005 6:10 AM:

GCochran, you're right the Mohammedan peoples have not mattered much in recent centuries.
This very insignificance has spared them from the reality of what modern war is all about
and given them fanciful notions of what military conflict is. Someone has always been
around to pull their bacon from the fire when defeat looms.

However the Iranians have missiles with a 1200 mile range and might have nuclear warheads
to put atop them in the very near future. Pakistan does have an inventory of perhaps 30 or
so nuclear bombs right now and a successful assassination of General Musharaff could bring
a new leadership infused with radical Islamic theology. Backward and poor these countries
maybe but the possession of missiles and nuclear warheads makes them insignificant no more.

If they can't create they now possess the ability to destroy and that is a worrisome thing.
We may yet have to institute the kinds of policies that Randall suggests but for the moment
we haven't reached that point. One nuclear explosion in India, Israel or anywhere else for
that matter and the world changes forever. Bush is simply and commendably trying to head
that situation off by offering the Islamic world an opportunity to 'get with it' and
behave responsibly. It they don't the things that Randall wants done will be done
and a lot more as well. Israel and India won't fool around with these folks. Neither will

gcochran said at December 23, 2005 9:36 AM:

The idea that Moslem countries are particularly likely to start a suicidal war is silly. Look at the record. Iran, for example, hasn't started a wsar against _anybody_ in 200 years - so I'm supposed to think that they're superdangerous?

You're extrapolating from one tiny nut group to a whole civilization: you'd have made justt as much sense ( nonse) trying to understand Japan by analyzing the Red Army Faction.

Bob Badour said at December 23, 2005 9:41 AM:


I don't think universal suffrage has improved government any--quite the opposite in fact.

I don't think electors today recognize the solemn duty to fully comprehend the issues at stake and the platforms of candidates. "Get out the vote" programs seem like nothing more than efforts to manipulate stupid people to vote against their own best interests.

I see the period prior to universal suffrage as a period where legislators and the judiciary regularly made new law that asserted freedom and individual rights and responsibilities. I see the period after universal suffrage as a period where legislators and the judiciary regularly erode freedom and suppress individual rights and responsibilities in favour of privileging various groups.

I think it is historically clear that the American Revolutionaries had tremendous respect for rule of law and individual freedom even while overthrowing the existing regime. Randall has repeatedly pointed to mountains of evidence that Iraq lacks any similar respect.

A mish-mash of warring tribes with ever shifting loyalties have no real use for universal suffrage. Bush and Rummie botched the whole mess horribly.

Bob Badour said at December 23, 2005 9:49 AM:


My primary fear with respect to Islamists and nuclear proliferation centers around plausible deniability.

Throughout the Cold War, the enemy had a clearly defined (if somewhat broad) return address, which supported the deterrent of mutual destruction. I worry that the next young Qaddafi will inherit a nuclear arsenal (however small) and think he can get away with using some radical group as cover for a clandestine attack.

That doesn't mean I think any Moslem country will rise to become a world power(with the possible exception of France or England or Germany.)

Prince Valiant said at December 23, 2005 1:05 PM:

"People voting based on ethnicity?!
Good thing the liberal tradition of Western Civilization is hard at work minimizing that counterproductive tendency over here."

Ha! LOL. I find it funny that so many of the Iraq War neocon superhawks are shocked, *shocked* to see Iraqis voting along strictly ethnic lines and for religious parties rather than for their own "son-of-a-bitch" like Ahmed Chalabi. What did they think would happen? This is why Sistani was pushing for the vote so early. He knew that the majority religious Shiite Arabs weren't going to cast votes for the US-supported candidates, but for his own Iran-allied, Israel-hating, religious-fundamentalist slate. Why does the Bush Administration pretend that "democracy" is some panacea? It works only when you have other things like a big middle class, rule of law, respect for minorities, and-- hopefully-- some way of viewing and supporting candidates outside of ethnicity.

If anything, these rushed elections in Iraq have turned into a disaster for the US-- by empowering Iran's proxies in Iraq and even conferring on them some semblance of legitimacy! I can't believe that the US is effectively spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year to effectively make our bitter enemy, Iran, the most powerful hegemon in the region, b/c this is exactly what's happening. The Sunni Arab insurgents aren't our main enemy-- our most dangerous foes in Iraq is the Iran-allied Shiite militias like the Badr Brigades. Those are the ones we should be turning out guns against here!

Incidentally, this brings up another issue. In the US soon, non-Hispanic whites will soon be "just another minority" with our very sub-replacement birth rates. Who, after all, wants to take the risk of getting married and having kids when the divorce laws in the US are specifically designed to ruin the lives of productive people, transfer their money to the less productive partners and almost completely ignore the real value of their education and economic productivity? (In the divorce courts, a wife who sits on her ass and smokes at home all day is entitled to half the earnings of a husband who spent 10 years training as a chemical engineer, gets up at 6 a.m. to bust his tail all day to produce pharmaceuticals that save lives. Both the husband and wife in these cases are considered to be "equally productive economically" and compelled to split the husband's earnings-- divorce law has no conception whatsoever of basic economic concepts of wealth creation and productivity. Also profoundly dysgenic, since productive people are thereby penalized.) Meanwhile, African-Americans continue to have larger families on average, as do Hispanics. So in maybe 20 years, the US will also have a three-way ethnic split among whites, blacks and Hispanics, an unprecedented state of affairs which would make voting along ethnic lines a much more realistic possibility in this country as well. IMHO, this does not bode well for our democracy.

Proborders said at December 23, 2005 4:16 PM:

Prince Valiant, black, Jewish, and Hispanic voters usually cast more votes for Democrat Congressional candidates than for Republican Congressional candidates. If all American voters voted as black American voters voted, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush would not have become the 40th, 41st, and 43rd President of the United States, respectively.

Dan Morgan said at December 23, 2005 6:20 PM:


I agree that it could all fall apart in Iraq no matter what we do. If it does, then surely this will be the last major U.S. attempt at nation-building. Also, if it does, I agree that the ethnic divisions and clan/tribal nature of Iraq will be core reasons - and that this will be what was not comprehended at the initial invasion.

However, I don’t think that Iraq will fall apart because of a lack of human capital or because it is a Muslim country.

Look at Turkey to the North. It is Muslim and is a functioning democracy, even if not a very good one. But it shows that a Muslim country can develop a democracy. And regarding average IQ of those in Iraq, Brazil and Mexico are both functioning democracies but their average national IQs are similar to Iraq (~89).

At this point, whether the invasion and nation-building attempt made sense or not, we are stuck with trying to create the best outcome. Moving our troops on to rear bases with our troops mostly out of harm's way, and coaching Iraqis on democracy, seems like the only path forward other than withdrawing and letting a much broader civil war ignite. Troop levels may decline to say 50,000. Once American casualties drop way down, the controversy over Iraq will die down too. Then what?

I think what we are in for is a kind of custodial democracy where the U.S. is constantly in the background prodding parties in Iraq to act along the lines of the democratic process. Meanwhile our troops on bases will continue to provide air support, logistical support, intelligence support, and advanced training. Our presence there will also allow us to offer more in-depth consulting to Iraqis on developing stable democratic and free market institutions than would happen if we were not there on bases.

Iraq has significant oil wealth. If used properly this can help buy peace among ethnic groups and fund the growth of democracy. Look at all the poverty and failed states in Africa, but then look at Botswana with its mineral wealth. Botswana has a stable functioning democracy. Oil wealth could be used in Iraq to overcome whatever shortcomings Iraqis may have in human capital.

Regarding the case studies of U.S. intervention, the two biggest efforts are left out. That is Japan and Germany, those were our two most ambitious efforts. We stayed there until the countries had fully functioning democracies (in fact, we are still there). You can argue that these countries have the human capital and a greater cultural affinity for democracy and free-market economies - but none the less, they were extremely successful U.S. interventions.

I would also say that our efforts at democracy-building were not too strong or focused in countries that you list. The Philippines largely became a cold war chess piece where we tolerated a dictator if he was anti-communist. Regarding both Cuba and the Philippines, there was corruption that tied into American businessmen that the U.S. turned a blind eye to. Efforts at democracy-building were not front page news for years and the top focus of U.S. foreign policy.

And finally, nation-building on this scale, with all the benefits of modern technology to try and accelerate the process, has never really been attempted. History never repeats itself exactly.


You say, “A mish-mash of warring tribes with ever shifting loyalties have no real use for universal suffrage.” If history judges the whole Iraq war and nation building effort a great folly, then the ethnic conflicts and the U.S. lack of comprehension of the clan nature will be the root reasons why.

But as I said above, I think as long as we have bases in Iraq we can keep a lid on things. Will Iraqis mature into a viable nation when we finally withdraw? Time will tell. But I cannot see just walking away from the situation now.

Randall Parker said at December 23, 2005 7:56 PM:


Germany and Japan were capable of industrialization and of launching massive wars and conquering many countries. It is these capabilities and other qualities present in their countries before WWII that made them capable of running industrialized democracies. Yes, they had the human capital. Differences matter.

Try thinking more empirically and less mythologically. See my post "Low Per Capita Income Countries Never Remain Democracies". Combine that with the high correlation between GDP and income.

As for Turkey: It was ruled as a secular Western dictatorship initally under Ataturk and he and his followers kept enforcing a repression of the role of Islam in Turkey for most of the 20th century. Even before then the Turks felt greater affinity for Europe and were more Europeanized than the Arabs. This shows up in the 18th and 19th centuries.

But how stable is Turkey's democracy? The argument for letting Turkey into the EU is that if Turkey is kept out it will go toward a more religious culture and government. It is noteworthy that this is already happening.

The neocons are incredibly ahistorical.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright