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Zakaria: Election rare good news out of Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • Zakaria supported U.S. invasion of Iraq, but says occupation was catastrophic
  • We'll see whether Iraq elections show democracy or tyranny of majority, he says
  • Zakaria says true test for peace will come after U.S. troops start leaving
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 and 6 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria: "Last week's elections were something rare: good news out of Iraq"

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's coalition won most of the provinces in last week's local elections, and an underdog prevailed in Anbar, the largely Sunni Arab province, election officials said Thursday.

Officials unveiled the results of 90 percent of returns from Saturday's elections. The other 10 percent -- as yet uncounted -- comprise special voters, such as security forces who voted before last week's election, and contested ballots.

The vote was viewed as a test of the popularity of al-Maliki, a Shiite who has emerged as a powerful politician.

Al-Maliki's State of the Law Coalition list -- which includes members of his Dawa party -- came in first in nine of 14 provinces.

The results represent defeat for al-Maliki's rivals, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the most powerful Shiite party in the present government, and the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, long popular in Baghdad's slums and the Shiite heartland

World affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria spoke to CNN about the impact of last week's election.

CNN: Did you support the US invasion of Iraq?

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Zakaria: Yes, when the U.S. first invaded Iraq, I supported the idea. I supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime because I thought that to have a democracy in the heart of the Arab world could change the politics of that region, where there's a bad cycle.

The region is ruled by repressive dictatorships and their repression breeds extreme and religious opposition movements like al Qaeda. This was a chance to break with all that.

CNN: Do you still think that?

Zakaria: Well, foreign policy is about costs and benefits. The horror wrought by poor planning was unconscionable. Iraq fell into the grip of bloody and uncontrolled violence because of the catastrophic way the Bush administration handled the occupation. In the end the costs brought by the invasion were simply too high to justify.

But I continue to hope that an Iraq that handles its politics through debate, negotiations and participation will mark a sea change in the Arab world.

CNN: You think it is that important?

Zakaria: Yes. Think about it, of the 22 Arab countries, this is the only one to hold real elections.

CNN: So what do you think about the recent Iraqi elections?

Zakaria: Well what I want to see is whether this is a democracy or a tyranny of the majority. Remember the Shia are the largest voting bloc in Iraq.

The reason this is crucial is that the rest of the Arab world is Sunni. If they see what's going on in Iraq not as democracy but as Shiite majority rule, it's not going to be much of an example to them.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Barham Saleh also wants to be careful in noting the elections are a part of a larger democratic process: "Talking of triumph is far too early. The most important thing that Iraq's political process is consolidating, there is a democratic system that is taking root in this country and people of Iraq are having a stake in this process, are taking part in it."

There are big challenges ahead but last week there was something rare -- good news out of Iraq.

CNN: So other Arab countries are watching?

Zakaria: Yes. But whether it will affect them immediately is probably not likely. As Martin Indyk, author of "Innocent Abroad," mentions in a discussion on "GPS" this week: "There will be those small liberal voices in the Arab World who will take heart at the way in which the election process appears to be helping reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. But I think the general response for the time being is that they'll suspend judgment at best rather than decide to embrace this approach."

CNN: What do you think will happen?

Zakaria: I'm not sure, but a lot rests on whether the current situation between the Shiites and the Sunnis is just a cease-fire -- or a genuine peace.

We will only know for sure when the American troops start leaving. The hope is that the peace will remain -- not an escalation of tensions.

Barham Saleh is very aware things are still delicate: "I can tell you the progress is undeniable, is tangible and should be recognized and should be celebrated. However, it is still fragile and it is still precarious.

Without active American engagement and support, the security gains and the political gains could unravel. This should propel us in the Iraqi leadership with the help of the United States, with the help of the United Nations to really address some of these fundamental political problems that is still affecting our society and our political system.


There are key issues of power sharing, oil, and revenue sharing, disputed territories in Kirkuk and other areas, some of these fundamental issues are yet to be resolved."

So we need to continue to wait and watch what develops. And you can keep abreast of the developments by continuing to watch "GPS."

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