Karzai-ism Spreading to Iraq?

| Thu Apr. 29, 2010 9:13 AM EDT

The Obama administration has a tough challenge figuring out how to handle the tainted government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Now, it may also have a similar mess to contend with in Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The Obama administration is showing growing nervousness as Iraq’s postelection process of forming a new government turns out to be even more troubled and drawn-out than anticipated. After weeks of backstage prodding, US officials are now openly questioning the impact on US-Iraq relations – and in particular on plans to pull out all US combat forces this summer.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was a close second-place finisher in March 7 balloting, has employed what appear to be ever-more desperate measures to hang on to his post. In Washington, worries are mounting that Iraq will be saddled with a tainted government.

"They’re increasingly afraid of ending up with another Karzai-like mess," says Wayne White, a former State Department analyst on Iraq, referring to last year’s reelection of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That election was widely deemed to have been stolen.

"There was always concern over time and the impact a drawn-out process of naming [an Iraqi] government could have," Mr. White adds. "But the prospect of a government tainted by illegitimacy is quickly becoming a much larger problem."

In a carefully worded admonition to the Iraqi government Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reminded Iraqi officials that "transparency and due process" are essential elements of an election and government-forming process that attains the confidence of the public. She called on Iraq’s leaders to "set aside their differences" and "to form quickly a government that is inclusive and represents the will of all Iraqis."

That's much easier said than done. After all, why shouldn't Maliki follow Karzai's lead—and do whatever he can to hold on to power? Couldn't he also expect to continute to count on Washington's support, like the Afghan leader? This shows the problem the administration faces: once you accept a fraudulent election in one country, leaders elsewhere get ideas.

An intransigent Maliki could put the Obama administration in a tough spot. As the Monitor notes,

White...says the Obama administration will be left with "a really wrenching choice over how it treats the government" if Maliki’s "efforts to stack the deck" result in him holding on to power.

That could mean renewed political instability, he says – and put the US in the uncomfortable position of "taking the side of what is widely assumed to be an illegitimate government."

To an extent that's already happening in Afghanistan. Does it matter if the same occurs in Iraq?