Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer will board a military flight this week and go home. Though Iraqis will cheer his departure, the transfer of sovereignty will not mark the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.
In some ways, the transfer of sovereignty will be anti-climactic. Coalition troops will remain. But military presence and sovereignty are not mutually exclusive--no one questions the sovereignty of Qatar, Korea, Turkey, Italy, or South Korea, even though they host United States troops.
The decision of diplomats to remain inside the Republican Palace in Baghdad, however, is a mistake. Saddam Hussein's former palace not only symbolises the worst of his horrific reign, but also more than a year of occupation.
The transfer of sovereignty may be a watershed, but Iraqis say true legitimacy will come only after elections. Iraqis look forward to casting their votes, but short-sighted technocratic decisions threaten the durability of Iraq's democratic experiment. Indeed, a decision relatively unnoticed outside of Baghdad may become Bremer's greatest legacy.
On June 15, Bremer threw aside the advice of Iraqis (and many in Washington) and issued CPA Order No. 96 imposing a party-slate system on Iraq.
"Iraq will be a single-electoral constituency. All seats in the National Assembly will be allocated through a system of proportional representation," the order declares.
With the stroke of a pen, Bremer set Iraq down the path towards a Lebanon-style communal system. United Nations elections specialist Carina Perelli says: "There are a lot of communities that have been broken and dispersed around Iraq. And these communities wanted to be able to accumulate their votes and to vote with like-minded people."
In other words, Bremer and Perelli assume that Iraqis want only to vote for ethnic or sectarian parties.
The irony is that while a party-slate system catalyses instability, it will not bolster representation. For example, neither Iraq's Chaldean or Yezidi communities have political parties.
Many Iraqis share ethnicity, but not religion. For example, the Turkmen of Tel Afar, a town of 160,000, are 95 per cent Shia, while the Turkmen of Erbil are Sunnis. Ten per cent of Kurds are Shia.
So the system will bolster populist political clerics like Karbala's Sayyid Hadi al-Modarresi, who told the Arabic daily al-Hayah, "The first article in a democracy is the rule of the majority over the minority."
It is also easier for neighbouring countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia to interfere in a party-slate system. Simply put, it is easier to fund a party list than subsidise separate candidates in neighbourhood districts in which residents are more aware of outside influence.
Divisions in Iraq have little to do with communal identity. Communal violence has been slight, despite the dire pre-war predictions of politicians and pundits, many of whom had never talked to an Iraqi, let alone stepped foot in the country.
For example, the Najaf governorate is almost entirely Shia, but a chasm exists between the old families of Najaf city and the tribal families in the countryside.
Likewise, in areas south of Kirkuk, where Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs live in equal number, residents favour political parties like the Iraqi National Congress that do not base themselves on ethnicity or sectarian preference.
In Iraq, local interests run supreme. As in Australia and the US, politics in Iraq is about patronage. Support for the now-disbanded Governing Council varied. Residents of Basra and Mosul accepted the Governing Council; they had representatives. Residents of the Shia town al-Kut or the predominantly Sunni town of Fallujah did not; they had no representatives.
The best way to ensure civil war in Iraq is to create a system in which some regions feel completely disenfranchised.
Most Iraqis favour constituency-based elections. The Transitional Administrative Law calls for a 275-member National Assembly, which equates to about 30,000 voters per district. Contests would occur not between parties, but rather between individuals.
Living among and being accountable to constituents breeds moderation; uncharismatic, corrupt, or abusive party hacks who hope to win power on the coat-tails of party bosses would be the main losers.
Older Iraqis also favour constituencies. Distrust of political parties runs deep in Iraq. Even Perelli acknowledges Iraqis' ill-feeling towards political parties. "The anti-political party feeling of the population is extremely high," she told journalists in May, citing a poll which found only 3 per cent support for political parties.
Distrust of parties extends to Iraqi Kurdistan, where I taught in 2000-2001. With few exceptions, my former students associated local Kurdish parties with corruption, abuse of power, and nepotism.
In July 2001, the Jordanian government switched from a party-slate to constituency-based system to augment representation and undercut the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which dominated the former. And one of the few issues on which Israelis reach consensus is on the failings of party-slate elections.
It is disappointing to many in Washington and Baghdad that Australia, which has internationally renowned experience in election systems, remains relatively silent on such a key issue. The future of Iraq may just depend on Australia finding its voice.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.