UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 000562
STATE FOR NEA/PPD (CWHITTLESEY, PAGNEW), NEA/ARPI
(TROBERTS), IIP/T/SV (SROSE-BLASS)
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KIRC OIIP SCUL IZ MU
SUBJECT: DVC - ELECTIONS KEY TO POSITIVE CHANGE IN IRAQ
Â¶1. Embassy Muscat held a digital videoconference with Dr.
Phebe Marr, Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of
Peace, on the impact of the Iraqi elections on the future of
Iraq. Dr. Marr acknowledgopined that the elections were
flawed and that sectarian issues played a prominent role in
their outcome. Nevertheless, she considered the elections a
landmark event in Iraqi history that has put the country
squarely on the road to democracy. About 20 Omanis
participated in the exchange, posing thoughtful -- and
thought-provoking -- questions. End summary.
An Important Step
Â¶2. On March 28, we hosted a 90-minute digital video
conference (DVC) with Dr. Phebe Marr, Senior Fellow at the
United States Institute of Peace, an independent,
nonpartisan institution created by Congress to promote the
prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of
international conflicts. Dr. Marr addressed 20 Omani
interlocutors from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
journalists, magazine editors, and members of the Diplomatic
Institute, on the importance of the recent Iraqi elections.
Â¶3. Dr. Marr pointed out that before Saddam Hussein's
removal Iraq did not have a promising future, but his
removal and the subsequent elections have put the country on
a better pathfuture. She Marr stressed that although the
elections were flawed due to an insecure environment and a
lack of adequate voter education or party-building, they
nevertheless brought a sense of empowerment to the Iraqi
people. In addition, she predicted that the electoral
victory of sectarian party listssectarian election results
will force the diverse segments of Iraqi society to
compromise in order to form a representative government.
Change Won't Come Easily
Â¶4. Dr. Marr stressed stated that Iraq will face challenges
such as continued sectarian violence and mistrust, a slow
reconstruction process, the ethnic and religious obstacles,
and the difficulty ofin drafting a constitution acceptable
to all groups of the society. Dr. Marr argued that the
insurgency is not the biggest threat to a democratic Iraq,
but is a factor that will delay investment and the return to
stability. She also discounted the possibility of civil
war, citing the willingness of Sunnis to rejoin the
political process and Kurdish acceptance of autonomy within
Iraq as signs that key factions have opted to play a role in
the new government.
What Do The Neighbors Think?
Â¶5. Dr. Marr opined that the Iraqi elections were a strong
indication that democracy can take hold in Arab countries.
She speculated that Iraq could play a role in spreading
greater openness to Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria,
Iran and Egypt, but acknowledged that these countries would
not necessarily welcome this influence. She predicted,
however, that they would not seek to destabilize Iraq
because an unstable Iraq would not be in their interest.
Ms. Marr suggested that the smallerArab Gulf Sstates would
not feel threatened by a democratic Iraq because they have
already instituted moderate changes that provide their
citizens greater liberty and increased political power.
Answering The Hard Questions
Â¶6. Dr. Marr participated in a lively Q&A session following
her presentation. In response to a question about U.S.
interests in the region, she said the Bush administration is
committed to liberalization and stated her belief that U.S.
and coalition forces will depart Iraq when the Iraqi
government asks them to do so. She noted the impatience of
the American people for the troops' return. In addition,
she stated that it is unlikely that the U.S. will use
military force to initiate regime change or democratization
in Iran or Syria.
Â¶7. When asked whether current Iraqi leaders should be
viewed as legitimate, Dr. Marr noted, "These people have
lived outside of Iraq for a long time. I consider them
volunteers who have come to help rebuild their homeland and
train a successor generation to take over. I doubt that
very many of them will remain in their positions ten years
from now." She also rejected a suggestions that Gulf states
could deflect U.S. pressure to democratize by establishing
or expanding relations with Israel, stating, "While the U.S.
wants the countries to have better relations with Israel,
the two issues are separate."
Â¶8. When asked if the U.S. is pushing for "selective
democracy" in the region, Dr. Marr responded that the policy
makers in the Bush administration who want democracy are
committed to it everywhere. However, she acknowledged that
the amount of pressure placed on a country might be
influenced by other factors, such as national security
Â¶9. Although contactsaudience members did not always agree
with Dr. Marr's point of view, they appreciated her
thoughtful analysis of the situation in Iraq and largely
shared her assessment that the elections were a momentous
event in Iraqi history. Most agreed with her assessment
that it is time to leave disagreements about the war behind
and consider ways to rebuild Iraq and help it to advance on
the road to democracy.
Getting the Word Out
Â¶10. Linking Omanis directly with a respected Iraq expert
helped advance our MPP goal of garnering more Omani support
for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq. It also
enabled us to address the misperceptions that the U.S. will
remain in Iraq indefinitely and hopes to install an U.S.-
controlled government there. The program's timing during
the formation of the new government and prior to the
drafting of the new constitution provided an excellent
opportunity to call attention to the positive implications
of the elections for the future of that country.