In many respects, the elections were successful. The main success, however, is being mentioned only marginally, by a few reporters: the US was compelled to allow them to take place.
That is a real triumph of non-violent resistance, for which Sistani has been the symbol. The US sought in every possible way to avoid elections, but has been compelled to back down, step-by-step. First, it tried to ram through a US-written constitution. That was barred by a Sistani fatwa. Then it tried to impose one or another device (caucuses, etc.) that could be controlled completely. Also blocked by non-violent resistance. It continued until finally the US (and UK, trailing obediently behind) had no recourse but to allow an election — and of course, the doctrinal system went into high gear to present it as a US initiative, once it could no longer be avoided. The US also sought to undermine it as much as possible, e.g., by driving independent media out of the country (notably al-Jazeera, the most important), by ensuring that its own candidates, particularly Allawi, would be the only ones to have access to state resources to reach the public (most candidates had to remain unidentified), etc. But the US-UK couldn’t block the elections, greatly to the distress of Washington and London. The question now is whether they can be compelled to accept the outcome. There’s little doubt, even from the more serious mainstream press as well as from polls and from properly hawkish experts (like Anthony Cordesman) that people voted with the hope that it would end the occupation. Blair announced at once, loud and clear, that the prospect is not even being contemplated, clearly articulating his usual contempt for democracy.
Washington also announced that the US military forces would stay at least into 2007, whatever Iraqis want. The more serious press, like the Wall St Journal, is reporting that the US is attempting to secure some kind of agreement on a “vague promise” to withdraw eventually.
Other issues will be whether the US can pressure the elected officials to keep to the occupation-imposed legal structure to open up the economy to US takeover. The oil minister of the interim (effectively,
US-appointed) government has already announced his intention to open up the oil industry to foreign (meaning primarily US) takeover. And so on.
There are sure to be continuing struggles over these matters, and what happens here can have a significant outcome. There will be a major effort to project the required imagery about how the “free” and “sovereign” government wants the US to keep a long-term military presence, to take over a commanding role in the economy, etc. But that’s normal, as in Indochina, Central America, etc. It’s routine, not just in the US, of course.
I don’t think comparisons to 1984 in ES [El Salvador] or 1990 in NIcaragua are very useful. In those cases, the US was eager to have an election in the hope that it would ratify Washington’s resort to violence to undermine any prospect of democracy. This case is different. Whether it will be good for the people of Iraq is, in large measure, up to us.