Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another Sign of Progress in Iraq

Following on the heels of last month's passage of a de-Baathification bill, Iraq has taken another small step forward towards stability. Yesterday, the Iraqi parliament passed three vital measures: the 2008 budget, a law defining the scope of the powers of the Iraqi provinces, and an amnesty for thousands of jailed Iraqis, which also happens to be one of the benchmarks identified by the Bush Administration. The wrangling over these issues had been extremely acrimonious, and at times threatened to bring down the fragile and divided government.

While each of the measures is important in its own right, what is perhaps even more important is the way in which they were passed. Each law appealed to one of Iraq's primary ethnic groups. The budget was mainly supported by the Kurds who wanted to protect the 17% share of Iraqi national revenue that they had been receiving, the Shiites supported the definition of provincial powers to ensure that the central government will not be given too much power, and the Sunnis backed the amnesty, as the vast majority of the 26,000 prisoners in Iraqi jails are Sunnis. No side could get its preferred law passed against the opposition of the other two, and individually it appeared as if all the measures would fail. However, by working together and bundling the measures into one package deal, each party could receive its preferred measure in exchange for supporting the measures desired by the other party.

The importance of such a development can not be understated. The only chance Iraq has for stability and reconciliation is if the major political, religious, and ethnic groups believe that their futures can be protected and advanced through political participation and compromise. A cooperative deal such as this goes a long way to demonstrating that Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites can work together to achieve mutual interests, and that political power need not be a zero-sum game.

Again, as with the de-Baathification deal this is but a small success, and it no way indicates that Iraq has been "won". But again, the accumulation of small steps in the right direction can eventually produce the political climate necessary for success. It is certainly a positive sign that there are more and more examples of positive moves.

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