Monday, February 14, 2005

A tale of two stories

This morning I read the Washington Post’s new coverage of the results of the Iraqi election. It starts with a kick in the stomach.
[I]n one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say. . .

Yet the top two winning parties -- which together won more than 70 percent of the vote and are expected to name Iraq's new prime minister and president -- are Iran's closest allies in Iraq.
Yet skepticism started to set in when I read this.
And the winning Kurdish alliance, whose co-leader Jalal Talabani is the top nominee for president, has roots in a province abutting Iran, which long served as its economic and political lifeline.
I thought we wanted to the Kurds to do well in the election? How come a strong performance by the Kurds is being sold as "bad news?" My skepticism grew deeper when I read this.

"This is a government that will have very good relations with Iran. The Kurdish victory reinforces this conclusion. Talabani is very close to Tehran," said Juan Cole, a University of Michigan expert on Iraq. "In terms of regional geopolitics, this is not the outcome that the United States was hoping for."

Added Rami Khouri, Arab analyst and editor of Beirut's Daily Star: "The idea that the United States would get a quick, stable, prosperous, pro-American and pro-Israel Iraq has not happened."

Cole is a well-known leftist who refuses to believe that any good news is possible out of Iraq. He is not a good source for an objective analysis. And while I have never heard of Khouri, who said that Iraqis would elect a government that was "pro-Israel?" Hell, countries in Europe don't elect governments that are pro-Israel.

In its penultimate paragraph, the article states this.

For now, the United States appears prepared to accept the results -- in large part because it has no choice.

Finally, I note that nowhere does the story tell you what outcome was "expected" or "hoped for." (With a large percentage of Sunnis not participating, this is fairly close to what I was expecting.)

I then read the New York Times' coverage. And after I was done, I was left wondering whether the two stories were reporting on the same election. First, there is the headline: "Iraqi Shiites Win, but Margin Is Less Than Projection." Then, there is the story.

A broad Shiite alliance led by two Iran-backed religious parties won a slim majority of seats in the national assembly, final election results showed Sunday. The alliance's victory - in the first fully elected parliament in Iraq's 85-year history as a separate state - was narrower than the alliance had projected and set the stage for protracted maneuvering. . .

Calculations based on voting results indicated that while the Shiite alliance had on about 48 percent of the popular vote, it would hold 140 seats, or 2 more than equired for a majority.

Until just before results were announced, alliance officials said they were expecting 150 seats. That number would have brought them closer to the two-thirds majority required to name a new government and to take the controlling hand in writing a constitution. Instead, heavy Kurdish voting in the north and secular voting in Baghdad and Basra offset the alliance's sweep in most of the southern provinces. . .

The sweeping victory sought by the main Shiite group, the United Iraqi Alliance, was denied . . .

In an interview as the last election returns were being tallied, the diplomat said the Americans were "ready to work with whatever government the Iraqis choose," and were not worried about the alliance's Iranian links. "I think that they're nationalistic Iraqis, and that they didn't go through all those years of struggle against Saddam just to hand their country over to the Iranians."

So, despite the Washington Post's suggestions to the contrary, perhaps these election results are not the end of the world after all.

(Linked at OTB).