In American proconsul Paul Bremer's 2003 master plan, last week's election was meant to be the culminating act in entrenching democratic rule in Iraq. Instead it marks the nadir of the American enterprise there. The brutal failure of that enterprise, and of the similarly unlawful tactics employed in the war on terror, has boosted terrorist ranks worldwide, dealt grievous blows to the notion that human rights and the rule of law are essential elements in building democracy, and brought the US's standing to its lowest point in generations.
But the real victim of the war is Iraq. Despite the exercise of awesome US power and the expenditure of billions of dollars, the security situation grows worse by the month. Iraq remains the most violent country in the world, with a leadership that dare not set foot among its people. But President Bush is not prepared to countenance any compromise in his original war goals. Despite recent talk of pulling down troop levels, he finally declared that "we will settle for nothing less than victory".
The carnage in Iraq is not primarily caused by the insurgents. It is the death squads run by the Shia and Kurdish militias - according to former US diplomat James Dobbins, who is now with the Rand Corporation - who bring about a greater threat of civil war. Indeed the former US-appointed Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi has accused Jalal Talabani's regime of committing human-rights abuses against Sunnis that are as egregious as those under Saddam Hussein.
Last week's election will do nothing to hasten the winding-down of the occupation, which is the principal obstacle to peace in Iraq, and the country is breaking down into violent communal fiefdoms. The US introduced sectarianism in Iraq as one of its very first acts of occupation, by reorganizing this secular nation's politics along explicitly religious and ethnic lines. This was purportedly done to crush the Ba'ath party, but the larger target was Arab nationalism, as was the case when Israel encouraged Hamas as a counterpoint to the PLO.
This election, apart from the fact that it is taking place under occupation, was held amid such insecurity and violence that few candidates dared to campaign in public. In addition, all three main presidential candidates are long-term exiles, and two of them, Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi, are known to have been in the pay of US security services. This election will not enhance Iraqi sovereignty or the new government's legitimacy, nor would it be recognized as free and fair in any democratic country.
The large Sunni vote on Thursday will regrettably make little difference to their marginalization. They turned out to vote in the October referendum when assured that some key constitutional provisions they considered repugnant could be rewritten by the new parliament elected in December. Laith Kuba, a spokesman for the prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, revealed after the voting closed that any such constitutional amendments would be virtually impossible since any three provinces could reject them with a two-thirds majority.
When awful terrorist bombs ripped through a wedding party in Amman last month the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, rightly said the world must unite to act against terror. Who will unite the world in preventing unlawful wars and occupations that are now the root causes of terrorism?
Meanwhile the destruction and division of Iraq continues. The key challenges are the occupation, the comprehensive marginalization of the Sunnis and the mass violence generated by these two wounds. The election does little to address any of these calamities, even though - as in October's referendum - prayerful hopes for peace were evident on Sunni faces as they decided to vote in their hundreds of thousands.
Salim Lone is a former spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005