Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Monday, December 19, 2005

Iraq Votes

The results from Iraq's first full parilamentary elections since Sadaam took power are beginning to become apparent. It's undoubtedly a good thing that Iraqis are able to vote for their leaders and the participation rate of about 70% puts western democracies with optional voting to shame. Not unexpectedly seems likely that the party which has done best in the elections are the United Iraqi Alliance, which is a fundamentalist Islamic based party with fairly close ties to Iran. Cole crunches the numbers and according to this leaked poll information the two presidential candidates which are more secular and more preferred by the US - Allawi and Chalabi - seem unlikely to get close to 20% of the final vote.

The situation which I referred to as the crucial test of US intentions in the country in a previous post seems likely to happen soon. If the UIA gets a large parliamentary majority then the short term interests of the Iraqi government and the US may diverge. If the government legislates in accordance with the constitution which was previously authorised and treats Islamic Shia law as a "fundamental" source of law and if the foreign policy of the government is even a much watered down version of Iran's anti-western, anti-semitic stance then I simply can't see the US being happy about it. While this result would be a vindication of the US's currently stated "spreading democracy" reason for invasion (what better way to prove to radical muslims that the war wasn't a crusade against Islam than to leave behind a fundamentalist Islamic government), I somehow don't think that this result will play well with the US administration or the public at large.

Anyway, this new milestone once again raises the question of whether or not the Iraq war was worth it. It seems fairly obvious that if you could simply ignore the past three years and compare pre-invasion Iraq with the present day situation the answer would be yes. But you can't ignore the enormous costs of the war. A set of statistics was put together by the Independent a little while ago, looking at the costs of the first 1000 days of the war:
$204.4 billion The cost to the US of the war so far
2,339 Allied troops killed
30,000 Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths
0 Number of WMDs found
8 per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition
53,470 Iraqi insurgents killed
67 per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation
5 foreign civilians kidnapped per month
20 per cent Inflation rate 2005
25-40 per cent Estimated unemployment rate, Nov 2005
70 per cent of Iraqis whose sewage system rarely works
183,000 British and American troops are still in action in Iraq.
90 Daily attacks by insurgents in Nov '05. In Jun '03: 8
82 per cent Iraqis who are "strongly opposed" to presence of coalition troops
15,955 US troops wounded in action

If you had put that list to the American people before the invasion and told them that they could have an opporunity to bear those costs in order to gain an Iran-lite regime in power I think they would have rejected it.

That list doesn't cover the full costs of the war by any means. A little while ago a poll result was presented with glee on the front page of Dailykos (sorry, I don't have time to go searching for it) which showed that since the invasion of Iraq the US public has vastly less acceptance of the proposition that US forces should be used to bring about humanitarian ends. Kos thought that that was a silver lining of the invasion but I see it as yet another costs. There are places in the world where the threat of or actual use of US force could have a positive effect, if used wisely. For example, in Sudan the situation is getting so bad for NGOs that they are being forced to withdraw. If that process continues then the regime won't need to continue its genocide, starvation and disease will finish what they started. The African Union doesn't have the resources to effectively intervene and it is a situation where a tough stance by the US could well have a positive effect. But even if the current regime were minded to do something (and Condoleeza did call the situation genocidal at a time when many weren't using the word) the public's appetite for that sort of intervention now is nonexistent.

So I think my answer to the question of "was it worth it" is still the same as it was a few months ago. Good has come out of this war, no doubt about it. But the costs of getting there cannot be ignored and to my mind, it has not been worth it. Having said that, these elections appear hopeful and apparently strong step towards a healthier and more stable Iraq and that is certainly to be welcomed.

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