I’ve been arguing for a while that the only sustainable course in Iraq is that demanded by Ayatollah Sistani, that is, early elections which will, almost inevitably, produce a Shia majority government and some form of official Islamism. The occupying powers have no legitimate basis to resist this demand.
Admittedly, legitimacy is not a major concern for Bush, either at home or abroad, but the lack of it produces practical adverse consequence. No serious decision can properly be made under these circumstances. The occupiers have already found this out in relation to their economic agenda of privatisation free-market reform and so forth
Now there’s the news that the ‘Governing Council’ appointed by Paul Bremer has revoked a lot of Baathist laws protecting the civil status of women. If Bremer overrides this decision, he’ll be exposing the Governing Council as a sham. On the other hand, since the Governing Council is a sham, a decision by Bremer to approve the revocation is, in effect, a decision by the US to deprive half the Iraqi population of civil rights without ever giving them a chance to vote on it.
It seems likely that the government produced by an election would adopt similar policies. But, although this would be undesirable, it’s the typical outcome of democratic government in countries where religion is taken seriously – divorce and contraception have been banned wherever Catholicism is dominant, for example. Just as the US would not have been justified in invading Ireland to reform its divorce laws, it is not justified in denying democratic self-government to the Iraqi people because they might pass illiberal laws.
Update This report from the Guardian suggests that the British government accepts the need for early elections.