Immodest Proposal: Let Iraqis Vote in the Next American Election
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Iraqis have been ignored for too long.
By Mat Nashed
This is an opinion piece in the form of an immodest proposal. Please let us know what you think of the idea by leaving comments below.
The plan was reckless from the start. Citing incorrect intelligence, former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq by claiming that former dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
He didn’t. And, as predicted, the invasion shattered Iraq’s social fabric. Fast-forward to three months ago, when popular protests erupted across Baghdad and Shiite heartlands. Since then, more than 500 protesters have been killed by Iraqi paramilitaries sponsored by Iran. But as much as the uprising opposes Iranian hegemony, protesters are also targeting the corrupt political order that was ushered in by the U.S. occupation.
Iraqis, of course, never invited U.S. troops on their soil, yet they continue to suffer the consequences of the occupation. So it’s high time Iraqis had a voice in U.S. affairs. Better yet, they deserve a say in the next U.S. election. And let’s get real: It’s the least Washington could do.
After all, decisions made there arguably impact Iraqis — and people across the Middle East — more than they impact many American citizens. And Iraq was promised a democracy. Since the country’s future will be determined as much in Washington as in Baghdad, America should let Iraqis vote in the presidential election if it’s serious about its promise.
Just imagine what it would mean for Iraq if President Donald Trump wins a second term. His maximum pressure campaign on Iran could draw the two countries into war. And Iraq, experts warn, would be the mutual choice to battle out their differences.
Meanwhile, every leading Democratic presidential candidate vows to opt back into the Iran nuclear deal if elected. And that approach would de-escalate U.S. and Iranian tensions in Iraq, but it might also embolden Tehran’s proxies to undermine democratic aspirations across the region. The overlooked truth is that former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal came at the expense of allowing the carnage in Syria. A new deal could come at the expense of Iraq.
Whoever leads the U.S. could also harm Iraqis through counterterrorism operations. Just take the war on ISIS, which killed more than 3,000 Iraqi civilians according to the nonprofit Airwars. That death count was six times higher than the number publicly cited by the U.S.-led coalition during Obama’s tenure. Iraqis might want to hold some candidates accountable and push others to consider the human cost of American military operations.
Some Iraqis might fear that the sovereignty of their nation would be compromised if they partake in a U.S. election. But the bitter truth is that Iraq’s sovereignty has been a myth since 2003. Equally, Americans may be uneasy about allowing Iraqis to vote. Some may even argue that Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory — should have that right before Iraq.
The reality is both have a legitimate claim. And assuming Iraqis are on board — they could hold a referendum over it — organizing ballot boxes throughout the country would be complicated but not impossible.
Sure, there’s the obvious problem of possible vote rigging. In 2018, Iraq tried to protect the integrity of its election by using electronic voting machines. Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) said the electronic system was impossible to hack, but accusations of widespread voter irregularities surfaced nonetheless. The IHEC denied all fraud allegations, yet a cabinet investigation discovered damning evidence that necessitated a manual recount. The investigation concluded that some IHEC officials tampered with machines and solicited bribes to rig elections. The larger issue is that the IHEC — which was founded as an independent body — is made up mostly of members that are chosen by the biggest political parties. This implies that the IHEC isn’t exactly impartial.
Despite the IHEC’s spotty record, the largest political parties still refuse to invite a foreign institution to observe and assist with election preparations.
“Monitors were present in earlier elections,” recalls Nazil Tarzi, an Iraqi analyst and independent consultant. “And as far as the public is concerned, they wonder why an actor like the U.N. can’t monitor the electoral process again?”
Imagining a scenario where Iraqis are included in the next U.S. election would require guarantees of transparency. And with the integrity of the U.S. elections on the line, there would surely be U.S. officials and impartial foreign actors monitoring the IHEC and its preparations meticulously. Iraqi political parties might also have less of an incentive to intimidate protesters since their power and influence in Iraq wouldn’t be directly affected by the outcome.
In any case, Washington would have to solicit U.N. assistance to ensure that an independent security force is available to protect ballot boxes and monitor any attempts to coerce voters. U.S. soldiers should not guard ballot boxes as doing so could trigger memories of the occupation and make polling stations a target.
The point is that Iraqis deserve answers from Trump and whoever takes him on in 2020. And Iraqis should be able to answer back with a vote. Perhaps only then may U.S. foreign policy change for the better.
- Mat Nashed, OZY AuthorContact Mat Nashed