Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2005

Power-Sharing in Iraq

David L. Phillips

April 2005

Council on Foreign Relations


Iraq's elections on January 30, 2005, were a watershed in the country's history. Still, democracy involves much more than voting. It is about the distribution of political power through institutions and laws that guarantee accountable rule. The real fight for power will be over Iraq's permanent constitution.

Whereas the elections produced a wave of optimism, the delay in forming a government was intolerable to Iraqis who risked their lives to vote based on the expectation that Iraq's political leaders would quickly form a new government to address escalating violence and improve basic services. After ten weeks of agonizing debate, Iraqi politicians finally agreed on a division of responsibilities. If they can build on recent progress, a deal may be in the offing among Iraqis that preserves Iraq as a unitary state, establishes a federal system of governance, and is administratively viable.