'Another set of politicians is betting that the future belongs to those who hold themselves above the sectarian din. The forerunner of this group is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who should be commended for breaking ranks with the dominant identity-based Shia coalition that first propelled him to power and stature. Sure, he did so after failing to secure a guarantee from it about keeping his job post-elections, but the narrative he is going to run on is patriotism, rather than myopic sectarianism; he too cannot run on efficiency and integrity, but his fallback rhetoric is positive, rather than malicious. This changes the game in fundamental ways; what Maliki is starting in the Shia camp will echo immediately in the Sunni camp, and eventually find itself expressed in the Kurdish camp too.
This will be a years-long process, so it is lamentable that true secular democrats are not available in force and funding to mount a challenge at this stage. But their time will come as the trend deepens; if their moment is not to be at these next elections, their chances will improve in the electoral round after that. Maliki is an Islamist, but wants to market his secular credentials. This will not be enough for a number of Iraqis who do not want to vote for Islamists under any guises; their fall-back candidates will likely be Ayad Allawi and Saleh al-Mutlag in lieu of real democrats. Allawi and Mutlag’s sole saving grace is that they are secular, but they far from being democratic: they are the chief proponents of neo-Ba’athism, that is the rehabilitation of Ba’athists into Iraqi politics. For these next elections, they are place-holders for the anti-Islamist vote, but in another cycle they may be eclipsed by a democratic opposition.
The positive trends discussed above will need time to mature. But the fact that they are in the works means that things are heading the right way in Iraq. They are doing so with minimal U.S. meddling --as exhibited by Mr. Hill -- as they should be. The U.S. should not be playing favorites in this game; the Iranians and Saudis are doing so, rumored to be spending tens of millions of dollars, but they are thankfully and effectively canceling each other out. One of the biggest accusations against the concept of a democratic revolution in Iraq is that it can be imposed by the Americans. Fine, the Americans cleared away the poisonous legacy of the Saddam years to allow this new sprout to flourish. Like the date tree of Iraq, the country’s iconic symbol, once the sprout takes, it requires minimal attention, its roots shooting downwards to soak up the ample reserves of ground water. If vigilance is required, it should be directed against those who wish to uproot the sprout, or bioengineer it to look something like the weird growths that pass for government in much of the Middle East. A tree grows in Baghdad -- let it be.' --Nibras Kazimi