Iraq Governing Council member have announced that a new sovereign Iraqi government will take control of the country by June of 2004, at which time the current Coalitional Provisional Authority will dissolve. It is likely that US troops will continue to remain in the country to improve the security situation even after sovereignty is restored.
Returning Iraq to the Iraqi people is an important step, but it is also absolutely important to restore civil society to Iraq. Democracy is more than a system, it is a mindset, and I’m skeptical as to whether the Iraqi people are ready for democracy at this time. Then again, considering the way in which local elections have been a great success, these fears could be unfounded. However, it will take some time after sovereignty is restored for Iraq to have a chance to become a true democracy. There needs to be an active and flourishing party system that respects the legitimacy of the political system in order for democracy to be even remotely viable. Without that, this transition will still be largely symbolic.
It is also crucial that the US continue to work to improve the security situation in the country by actively routing the terrorists operating in Iraq. Ba’athist remnants such as Khamis Sirhan Al-Muhammadi, who planned the al-Rashid hotel attack as well as the Qaeda cells operating in the country must be destroyed. The transition to democratic rule will be difficult enough as it is without having terrorists working to undermine the new government.
The road to freedom in Iraq is still a perilous one, however, the restoration of Iraqi control is an important first step towards a free and democratic Iraq. However, it must not be the last step. Restoring democracy is not a process that can occur in just over a year – it will take many years of developing and fostering democratic values before the job can be considered even remotely finished.