Research Director Shadi Hamid wrote an op-ed for World Politics Review on February 4, 2009, which considers the significance of Iraq’s recent elections and the transfer of power, determined for the first time, by the electorate. 

Iraq’s provincial elections took place without major incident, leading observers to let out a sigh of relief. Some hailed the elections for what they were — in Larry Kaplow’s words, “orderly, safe, and enthusiastic” — others for what they weren’t — a vindication of the Iraq war and the subsequent surge. Most assessments thus far have been premature. After all, it is one thing to vote, it is quite another to accept the results.

The real test for Iraq’s fledgling democracy will be not Saturday’s voting, but rather how the competing parties come to interpret Saturday’s meaning. While these were not the first elections since the American invasion, they were the first in which those in power were called upon to give it up according to the preferences of the electorate. It is worth remembering that, with the exception of Lebanon, there are no Arab polities where voters can replace their leaders through the ballot. With the Dawa Party likely to take over governorates previously held by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), and Sunni Arabs wresting control of Niniveh from the minority Kurdish population, the process of power transfer has begun. It is less clear how it will end, and whether the vanquished will go down without a fight.

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