Iraq’s Surprise: The Persistence of Democracy by Yaroslav Trofimov – Wall Street Journal
In the years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, American promises of turning the country into a model democracy, spreading freedom across the Middle East, have often seemed like cruel mockery. By the time the U.S. withdrew in 2011, Iraq had been ravaged by bloody insurgencies and sectarian massacres that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,500 American troops. In 2014, Iraq almost collapsed in the face of a blitzkrieg by Islamic State, as the extremist group reached the outskirts of Baghdad. There weren’t many takers in the region for the Iraqi model.
Today Iraq’s prospects are looking brighter. A resurgent central government has defeated Islamic State, thanks in part to renewed American military involvement, and has taken back lands lost to the country’s Kurdistan autonomous region since 2003. And Iraq’s improbable political experiment has endured. In an increasingly repressive and authoritarian part of the world, this nation of 40 million people stands apart as a rare—though still deeply flawed—democracy. Iraq’s elected leaders insist that, despite their country’s many travails, it still has something to teach the rest of the Middle East.
“I hope others in the region will see a lot of hope and positive tendencies in our democracy,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a recent interview in his palace in Baghdad’s Green Zone. He sees the country’s multiethnic, multi-confessional makeup not as a fatal weakness but as a source of pride. “We have decided that we’ll accept that we are different. We are very eager to keep and protect our diversity. We want to undo whatever the terrorists have done.”
Iraq’s democracy remains fragile and imperfect. Sectarian and ethnic divides between the Shiite Arab majority and the Sunni Arab and Kurdish minorities still dominate its politics. Violence and corruption are endemic. And Iranian-backed Shiite militias, empowered by war on Islamic State, control many levers of government and seek a greater role for themselves—and for Tehran…