The March 7 Iraqi elections are shaping up to be a key and controversial event. De-Baathification has again become a key issue. Sunni candidates have vowed to boycott elections, and then have reversed their boycott. Generals Petraeus and Odierno and Ambassador Christopher Hill warn of Ahmad Chalabi’s and, by extension, Iran’s influence in the forthcoming election and government formation. Vice President Joseph Biden has claimed victory.
On Monday afternoon, we’re going to have quite a debate at AEI — involving Carina Perelli, the executive vice president of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, who has recently returned from Afghanistan where she was helping deal with the aftermath of a flawed election; Brian Katulis, perhaps the most nuanced and serious scholar at the Center for American Progress; as well as former Coalition Provisional Authority governance director Scott Carpenter, former Radio Free Europe Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo, and yours truly. I’ll be chiming in with some reporting from meeting with one of the Grand Ayatollah’s in Najaf, and my recent time in southern Iraq outside of the U.S. security envelope.
The panel is going to be contentious; many of us have serious disagreements. Brian and I have gone back and forth on NRO and the Wonk Room. But the future of Iraq will be more contentious: it may take months to form a government. Are we prepared for the fact that major figures — President Jalal Talabani, for example — may not be able to return given his own political party’s collapse? Or that Iraq may only have a lame-duck and provisional government as tensions and the chances of an Israeli military strike on Iran rise? Purple figures might not be in vogue anymore, but the post-election period might also determine the ability of the Obama administration to stick to its time line for Iraq withdrawal. In short, for better or worse, we’ve only begun to acknowledge how important the March 7 elections will be. Anyway, for the Iraq hands and security specialists in Washington, it might be worth stopping by (after registering).