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The price of regime change

Bomb attacks in Iraq show that elections do not guarantee stability

As the Chilcot inquiry continues, and the media wait with bated breath for Tony Blair to take the stand, you would be forgiven for thinking that the devastation of Iraq was in the past, finished, concluded, and the UK's role in the whole regrettable incident a distant memory, as the country gears up for its first true democratic elections in March.

But the recent upsurge of violence shows that this is very far from the truth. In October, 155 people were killed and 700 injured as a two bomb blasts ripped through Baghdad in the morning rush hour. Last week, 127 more were killed, and today it has been reported that at least five are dead.

In addition to these big explosions near government buildings, foreign correspondents report regular small-scale attacks on "softer" targets such as mosques, schools and marketplaces.

Violence in Iraq has always been complicated, stemming from sectarian conflict, criminal gangs and Muslim extremists. But this recent upsurge coincides with the passing of a law that will allow the general election to go ahead next year, and is widely accepted to be the work of al-Qaeda, fighting to destabilise the state.

It is hardly the most stable state, anyway. As I wrote in October:

. . . 1,891 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009; 1.6 million people are internally displaced -- a lack of clean water, fuel or electricity preventing their return home. Unemployment is at 50 per cent, and just 19 per cent of people have proper sewerage.

It would be as well to remember the recent election in Afghanistan, the other country to which the west bravely brought democracy: elections rendered irrelevant by extreme violence from insurgents and fraud from the incumbent president.

Of course, the situation in Iraq is different in many ways. But the Chilcot inquiry has indicated that the main priority in invading was to topple Saddam, and has affirmed that the Americans held a deep-seated belief that they would be thanked: a senior civil servant spoke of "a touching belief [in Washington] that we shouldn't worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light".

As the death toll rises, it is worth noting that regime change comes at a cost.

 

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