Consociational Democracy for Iraq - the hasty dismissals
It will be soon two years since UCLA sociology professor Andreas Wimmer expeditiously and carelessly dismissed all prospects for an Iraqi consociational democracy ( Download pdf, "Democracy and Ethno-Religious Conflict in Iraq," paper presented at the Center on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law, Stanford University, May 5, 2003: pp. 16-17):
Most foreign policy makers currently seem to favor a power sharing arrangement for the future Iraq, such as the so-called consociational democracy.
At first sight, Iraq seems to fulfill several conditions that political scientists have identified as favorable for the establishment of power sharing arrangements: a small overall population size; a small number of ethno-religious segments; and a high degree of control of elites over their future voters. More importantly, Iraq’s oil should provide a good enough resource basis for allowing a generous policy of inclusion and power sharing. An escalation of distributive conflicts is easier to avoid in such circumstances than in a country of all pervasive poverty. However, Iraq lacks a political culture of moderation and compromise that many see as a necessary condition for a power-sharing arrangement to work in a sustainable way. If power relations between the groups change, leaders may not be prepared to re-negotiate compromise and the consociational regime breaks apart. This has been the case in Lebanon and many other countries with power-sharing arrangements. In fact, as one researcher has remarked, "the list of cases where consociational arrangements applied reads like an obituary page."
If this is the objection then it is one that is very precipitate. It is one that pays no attention to cultural, nationalist, Islamist, and even sectarian incentives for moderation and compromise. It fails to taking in the view that the "perils of cultural fragmentation" amongst which "a foreign threat" is effective at helping to motivate this sort of collaboration (Lijphart, Arend. 1971. "Cultural Diversity and Political Integration," Canadian Journal of Political Science IV:1 (March), p. 12.). Iraq nationalists--Sunni Arabs and Shi’i Arabs, the Sadrists in particular--have every reason for moderation and compromise in order for them to kick out the invader. And so do Iraq Islamists—probably more than 75% of the country’s Shi’a, 50% at least of its Arab Sunna, and up to 25% of Iraqi Kurdistan’s political forces. Finally, aren’t Iraq Sunnis—Arabs and Kurds--strong enough to convince the Shi’ites of the advantages of consociationalism, in general, and the equal sharing of power between the two main confessions, in particular?
Wimmer imagines the following remedy:
To substitute for a culture of moderation and compromise, a strong outside hand may be needed to bring the parties together when they cannot agree on how to divide the cake and, if necessary, to enforce a compromise and raise the costs of defection. In Northern Ireland, the British and Irish government have effectively forced the conflicting parties into a "coercive consociationalism." Without similar coercion over a prolonged period of time, it will take only a few months in Iraq for the Kurdish North to declare itself independent and Kirkuk its capital, for the Shii to establish a de-facto independent state ruled by and alliance of clergy, tribal elders and urban bazaaris. If a power sharing arrangement is what Iraqis and American foreign policy makers choose as the country’s political system of the future, the centripetal drive will have to come from the outside.
The alternatives are two: either to hand control over Iraq’s democratization to another body with more legitimacy, such as the United Nations, or to favor a different institutional designwith less centripetal pull than a power-sharing arrangement.
While Wimmer agrees at least on the U.S. military presence in Iraq being part of the problem, rather than of the solution, he apparently can’t conceive any legitimacy beyond the United Nations’; in any event, not the legitimacy imagined by a Middle East connoisseur like Patrick Seale:
An outside power cannot easily impose a political system on a country against the wishes of its inhabitants. Elections are meaningless in the absence of some form of national reconciliation. In all this, Iraq's neighbors can play a helpful role. They can host meetings of Iraqi political leaders. They can provide guarantees to beleaguered communities. They can mediate a cease-fire or a truce between warring parties. And they can persuade militant groups to hold their fire.
They could even offer to send peacekeeping troops into Iraq to replace American and British forces. Iran and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Syria and Jordan all have an interest in a stable Iraq, at peace with itself and its neighbors, and free from foreign influence.
In other words, we’re going to need two equal "strong outside hands"--a Shi’i and a Sunni one.