Newsweek Ponders Bush's Iraq Legacy

Thursday, 04 Mar 2010 08:53 AM

 

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"Victory at Last," proclaims the magazine cover. Elections in Iraq, seven years after the US invasion, could belatedly prove former president George W. Bush right, Newsweek magazine suggests in its latest issue.

Experts are divided, but acknowledge democracy is progressing in the country invaded by a US-led coalition in March 2003 to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

"Something that looks an awful lot like democracy is beginning to take hold in Iraq. It may not be 'mission accomplished' but it's a start," said Newsweek.

The magazine said a successful democratic transition in Iraq may be a major boost for Bush's legacy, after he was skewered for the now infamous banner message unfurled behind him addressing troops on a US aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003.

According to the weekly, US officials are hoping the vote comes off relatively peacefully, avoiding the situation after the elections in December 2005 which failed to produce a prime minister and cabinet until May 2006.

Analysts are divided on the outlook for Iraq and the possibility of democratic governance in the region.

Nora Bensahel, a senior political scientist at the private research firm Rand Corporation and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said the situation is "more complicated than the Newsweek article makes it seem."

"It's certainly true that Saddam Hussein would not have left power and that the democratic system would not have been set up in 2003 if not for the invasion," she said.

The fact that the government is functioning and passing laws is "a very positive sign" for democracy, Bensahel said.

But she also argued that "the decisions that president Bush made about how to conduct the war, particularly about the post-war period, have set back the democratic process that would have been much better in other circumstances."

A total of 6,500 candidates will contest Sunday's ballot in an election that will feature 10,000 polling stations and 54,000 ballot boxes, according to Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission.

"I am hopeful about Iraq but there is a long ways to go," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior research fellow specializing in national security issues at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

"The second election in a young democracy is crucial because it is what demonstrates that sound roots for peaceful elections -- and peaceful transitions of power, as appropriate and necessary -- are sinking in."

The election is also a key to a transition in Iraq that would allow President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to pull US forces out of the country.

There are currently some 96,000 US troops in Iraq, but the number is scheduled to fall to 50,000 by August when all American combat soldiers are due to pull out.

Others point out that elections have fueled a surge in violence, with hundreds of civilians killed and Al-Qaeda vowing to disrupt the vote.

Michael Hastings, a war correspondent and author of a book on Iraq, wrote on the Daily Beast blog that democracy may be elusive.

"I suspect we could be seeing Iraq's final gasp of democracy this weekend, a last purple-fingered salute before the country slips back into a more familiar authoritarianism," Hastings wrote.

© AFP 2014

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