The upcoming Iraqi parliamentary elections loom large in the political fortunes of so many players, both internal and external, that it constitutes a historical referendum of sorts -- not just for Iraq, but beyond as well. Across the region, globalization, in all its complex currents, appears poised at a number of inflection points. The outcome of Iraq's elections will leave winners on some fronts, losers on others, and will trigger plenty of bandwagoning by those worried about being left out or left behind. Here's a list of some potential outcomes, none of which are mutually exclusive, in rough order of likelihood:
The Bush-Cheney Vision Wins. Iraq has had three reasonably free elections to date, but all of them took place under fire. This will be the first one truly conducted under stable conditions, even if the peace is decidedly fragile. Yes, there will be significant efforts at disruption and terror, some of which will succeed. But if expectations of a 70 percent turnout hold and Iraq's Sunnis are not perceived as having withheld their participation (as in 2005), this election will constitute the biggest victory yet for democracy in the Middle East. If three groups as significantly divided as Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can manage a plebiscite of this scope, amid a host of issues all capable of reigniting civil strife, it reveals the arguments used to defend Arab autocracy for the enduring lies they are.
No other major regime in the region could risk anything close to this impressively open a competition -- not Saudi royalty, not Iran's military dictatorship, and not Egypt's decades-long "emergency rule." No matter how long it takes Iraq's resulting government to form, with this fourth free election in a row, Iraq can reasonably be mentioned in the same breath as neighboring Turkey -- the gold standard among the region's Muslim countries. No, that doesn't magically rule out subsequent coups, stubborn battles with insurgents or even a return to civil strife. It just means that ordinary Iraqis know real democracy is both possible and sustainable, meaning that this new "normal" won't be discarded without a fight.