Since the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Shiites of Iraq have come to the forefront of the debate among Western and Arab intellectuals and politicians. A clear majority of more than 60 percent of the population, the Shiites of Iraq have never held a majority or even a powerful minority status in Iraqi politics since the establishment of modern Iraq eight decades ago.
Ten weeks after the January 30 elections, Iraqis have chosen a Kurdish president, Shiite and Sunni vice presidents, a Sunni speaker and Shiite deputy speaker of parliament, and now a Shiite prime minister. Why has it taken so long to form the new government?
When the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) dissolves on June 30, it will leave behind a series of enactments designed to remake significant parts of the Iraqi legal order. While the juridical and political basis for the CPA's enactments is shaky, any succeeding Iraqi authority is likely to hesitate before repealing them wholesale.
The lingering effect of Baathist-era distortions and intensifying violence are hindering efforts to create a civic culture based on tolerance, cooperation, and individual initiative in Iraq.
Freed from state control, religious authorities—drawing on their moral authority and extensive mass communication networks, and benefiting from the weakness of secular forces—quickly filled the political void created by the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. A year later, these authorities remain the principal shapers of public opinion among most Iraqi Arabs.
Iraq's Shiite Islamists are in an undeniable position of strength as the June 30, 2004 hand-over of sovereignty approaches. Their leadership has gelled with the emergence of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, 75, as the major political force in the country.
On March 8, the Iraqi Governing Council signed Iraq's new interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). The TAL is expected to go into effect on July 1, 2004 and may foreshadow elements of a permanent constitution. It will remain in force until a new government, scheduled to be elected by January 31, 2005, enacts a permanent constitution.
More than one hundred political parties have been established in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Some call themselves "movements," "associations," or "fronts," and they are dedicated variously to democracy, human rights, Islamic values, constitutionalism, federalism, national unity, and ethnic or tribal identity.
The current state of Iraqi media reflects both the pluralism and the chaos of post-war Iraq. There is abundant freedom of expression, especially in northern Iraq, whose semi-autonomy since the early 1990s allowed the Kurds to establish non-Baathist media outlets several years ago.
In an appearance on Cairo's "Dream TV" in the spring of 2004, the eminent Egyptian journalist Muhammad Hassanayn Haykal broached the deeply sensitive topic of Gamal Mubarak’s aspirations to succeed his father as president. For his efforts, Haykal was summarily banned from Egyptian broadcasts.
The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein's government dangled the prospect of an Iraq with freedoms of the press unparalleled in the country's history and indeed in the Arab world. The fall of Saddam's regime spawned dozens of new publications and broadcast outlets staffed by Iraqi journalists.
With sanctions lifted, Saddam Hussein removed from power, and Kurdistan the most secure place in Iraq, Kurdish media have unprecedented potential to thrive.
Each of Iraq's three elections in 2005 has been a landmark event: the first free and transparent election on January 30, the first referendum to approve a constitution on October 15, and now the first election to choose a permanent government on December 15.
The U.S. push for elections in Iraq by January 31, 2005 is motivated not just by a desire to meet a prominent deadline on the post-war transition calendar. Many senior U.S. officials also see elections as a crucial palliative to the country’s chronic instability.
Whether the Iraqi constitution is approved or not in the October 15 referendum, there will be new elections in December for the National Assembly and party alignments are beginning to emerge.
After several missed deadlines, Iraq's constitutional process has yet to produce a draft acceptable to Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs, and prospects are bleak. Both process and content, currently, are highly problematic.
Iraq's insurgencies began with the U.S. military invasion in March 2003 and gained momentum after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime when the United States moved to dissolve the Iraqi military and implement a sweeping de-Baathification policy.
After two postponements, the Iraqi National Conference finally took place in Baghdad from August 15-18. The conference, called for in the Transitional Administrative Law (Iraq's interim constitution) and originally scheduled for July, convened 1,300 delegates to select a 100-member interim national assembly.
With the conclusion of the Iraqi National Conference last month, the next milestone for Iraqi democracy will be the January 2005 elections for a 275-member Parliament. Already, the electoral system chosen for Iraq could dampen the prospects for a representative and democratic vote.
Against the backdrop of strife that plagues much of Iraq, key political institutions and a legal framework have been established for the country's first democratic national elections, anticipated for January. Voters will select a 275-member transitional national assembly, governorate assemblies, and a Kurdish regional assembly