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Don't Give Up on Iraqi Democracy

Wall Street Journal - By Entifadh Qanbar 

As President Barack Obama attempts to re-energize American engagement in the Arab and Muslim world, he is rightly repudiating some of the policies of his predecessor. However, we in Iraq notice that democracy is rarely mentioned now in the rhetoric of U.S. officials.

Democracy is identified with the American system. The U.S. helped many countries that are now giants in the world order such as Germany and Japan to install and enshrine democracy in their political life during the past half century. The U.S. supported the waves of democratization that started in East Asia in the 1980s and spread through Latin America to Eastern Europe and even to Africa. It was only in the Arab and Muslim world that various administrations were reluctant to extend their support for democracy. This was justified in the interests of "stability."

But this reluctance was broken decisively in the case of Iraq. President George W. Bush delivered U.S. support for government by the people and for the people of Iraq.

This process actually began under President Bill Clinton who, although initially hesitant, came down strongly on the side of democracy when he signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. That made U.S. support for a democratic government in Iraq official policy. This law, which was passed unanimously in the Senate and by an overwhelming majority in the House more than two years before President Bush took office, pledged U.S. support for the Iraqi people in their struggle to overthrow Saddam Hussein's genocidal dictatorship and establish democracy and the rule of law.

The Bush administration followed through on that pledge. Many mistakes were made, but the administration's lasting legacy will be the establishment of constitutional, parliamentary and federal democracy in Iraq. Our government now respects human rights and minority rights, and there is a higher proportion of women in our Council of Representatives than there is in the U.S. Congress.

Even with all the shortcomings of a fledging democratic system, the fact remains that the Iraqi people are now choosing their government through elections. The sometimes chaotic process of coalition-building is a sign of a vibrant democracy. We would rather have this than the "stability" that characterizes the autocratic systems of most of our neighbors.

The Iraqi people will defend our democracy. It is in the best interests of the U.S. to continue its firm support for democracy in Iraq and not to slide back into the dead-end rut of authoritarianism that plagues countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, President Obama's most recent hosts. Someone once said of U.S. Middle East policy: "Choosing stability over freedom brings you neither." Just because it was George W. Bush doesn't mean it isn't true.

Mr. Qanbar is an Iraqi politician.





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