Douglas Ollivant, the former Director for Iraq on the National Security Council under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, and Nussaibah Younis, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s International Security Program, sat down with Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Betz to discuss whether these elections could help stabilize the increasingly violent situation within Iraq. The discussion was part of Al Jazeera’s regular Sunday night segment “The Week Ahead.”
“I think we’re at a significant turning point in Iraq,” said Ollivant, who is now a senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation.
Ollivant said that he believes the 2010 parliamentary elections were unable to accommodate the major political and sectarian divisions. This year’s elections bring greater hope for change, he said, even though he and Younis both said they expect Iraq’s incumbent prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, to remain in power.
“This next election makes me much [more] hopeful because we’re seeing a much wider, diverse array of political parties that may make government formation more easy this time around,” he added.
Younis, who is affiliated with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, disagreed with Ollivant’s assessment, claiming that the political outlook was more positive during the last election, in 2010.
“You had possibly the most stable period that Iraq has ever experienced since the invasion back in 2010,” she said. “And you had two big coalitions that both had sizeable representation of both Sunnis and Shias — and they we reusing nationalist slogans and were encouraging Iraqis to think of themselves as Iraqi first and of whatever sect second.”
Both panelists also disagreed about what role the United States should play moving forward in Iraq. Younis argued that the U.S. must help broker “a credible coalition that brings together Sunni, Kurdish and Shia politicians in the aftermath of these elections.”
But Ollivant said he was skeptical about the ability of the U.S. to play any significant role in forming the new government.
“The Iraqis are going to elect their own representatives and once the votes are counted, they are going to put together government formation,” he said. “The American role remains largely military: both providing weapons and perhaps assisting with airstrikes.”