Document Type


Publication Date



This Essay, originally published in a 2010 issue of the Harvard International Law Journal (Online), maintains that it is a mistake to ask whether or not the United States was wise to have "allowed" elections in Iraq as early as it did following its overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. Such a question presumes an absence of domestic agency that was certainly not the case in Iraq, and is probably not the case in any modern society under occupation. Domestic demands coming from domestic forces seeking to shore up their own power base almost necessitated the outcome of relatively early elections in Iraq, irrespective of what any occupying power would have wanted. Put more directly, Shi'i religious elites aware of their demographic advantage were far more concerned about a Sunni dominated Ba'ath resurgence during an initial period of uncertainty and instability than they were about complying with the wishes of a foreign occupying power whose time in Iraq was destined to be relatively short. Elections were a convenient, and normatively appealing, means for the Shi'a to assume political power in a decisive and legitimating fashion. This in the end proved irresistible once the Shi'i clerical classes began calling for immediate transition to democratic rule. The Essay thus seeks to answer a different question; namely, whether, given domestic pressures, there is any way to limit civil conflict arising from locally demanded near term elections that are likely to prove destabilizing, as indeed they were in Iraq.