The Iraqi elections have been declared a success, with a turnout estimated at around 60%. That's something to celebrate, at least. These elections were the one good thing which can be salvaged from the entire bloody mess of Iraq, and while I do not think they were worth the estimated 100,000 excess deaths, they at least are some compensation which will hopefully lead to a better future for Iraqis.
Meanwhile, former British foreign minister Robin Cook sees the elections as an opportunity to change the direction of British policy in Iraq. He starts by making the obvious point:
we must recognise that the longer the occupation has continued, the stronger the resistance to it has grown. There can be no credible programme to reduce support for the resistance unless we convince the Iraqi people that we have an exit strategy within a realistic timeframe.
In this, he's simply recognising the empirical data on why occupations succeed or fail. One of the key determinants in whether an occupation will be successful is whether there is a credible guarantee to withdraw and turn over power. So far this has been entirely lacking in Iraq, with the US government engaging in manipulation to ensure a compliant, pro-US puppet regime.
His second point should also be familiar to those who read the Dobbins piece on disengagement:
[we must] avoid repeating the mistake of the past year in which we have allowed the interim government to become identified with the occupying authorities. We should welcome, not discourage, any measure of independence demonstrated by the new assembly, such as repealing the Bremer decrees on the foreign purchase of Iraqi assets.
To this end, he suggests ending the taint of collaboration with the occupiers by relocating the Iraqi government outside the Green Zone, putting the reconstruction in the hands of Iraqis rather than companies widely seen as Bush's cronies, and ending all rhetoric about Iraq being "a model for the region". The underlying idea, which has been so-far absent from American plans, is that Iraqis should get the government they want - not the one that people in Washington or London want.
It's a sensible plan; the only question is whether the British and American governments will accept it, or whether they will continue to try and gain some return on their "investment"...