The elections in Iraq have occurred, and the elected National Assembly and new interim government have begun grappling with Iraq's substantial postelection challenge—governing a nation. In August 2004, the United States Institute of Peace launched a novel project in which it sought to develop multiple scenarios for the Iraq elections

Summary

  • The United States Institute of Peace sponsored a series of scenario-planning workshops with Iraq experts that was designed to anticipate Iraq election outcomes. Scenario planning includes an assessment of uncertain forces and factors, and of how they might shape the future. This process is designed to anticipate alternative futures, evaluate policy options that could affect those outcomes, and in so doing challenge mindsets and test assumptions.
  • In the August 2004 workshop the participants identified the level and distribution of violence and the perceived fairness and legitimacy of the Iraq election rules and process as the driving forces that would shape the election's outcome. These two "drivers" were arrayed as a matrix that produced four quadrants—each representing an alternative future—two of which underscored the potential that the legitimacy of the election could itself be jeopardized.
  • The November 2004 workshop focused on possible election outcomes, looking primarily at the actions of various groups and leaders and at the election logistics. The workshop identified a series of potentially "undesirable" election outcomes that could most easily occur should there be either high levels of violence or a perception that the election process was unfair. Of greatest concern were disproportionately low Sunni turnout and a failure of election-day logistics. Whether Iraq would be adequately prepared for the elections was explicitly considered.
  • At the final session, in January 2005, just before the election, the participants examined very specific possible election outcomes, postelection scenarios, and the challenges that the new Iraqi government would have to confront, notably basic powersharing and federal structures and the strength of the government itself. While particular election outcomes would make these challenges a bit harder or easier to address, the specific election outcomes would not alter underlying challenges facing Iraq.
  • In the end it became clear that who won and who did not was not as important as whether the process was transparently fair and would be perceived as legitimate by the Iraqi people.
  • This process may serve as a valuable template not merely for facilitating interactions among subject-matter experts but for channeling the collective expertise of those individuals into a product of additional value to policymakers. One cannot predict the future with consistent accuracy, but one can anticipate how the future might unfold. That is a useful addition to the policymaker toolkit.

About the Report

The elections in Iraq have occurred, and the elected National Assembly and new interim government have begun grappling with Iraq's substantial postelection challenge—governing a nation. In August 2004, the United States Institute of Peace launched a novel project in which it sought to develop multiple scenarios for the Iraq elections. This paper describes that project and illustrates how scenario planning can help policymakers grapple with great uncertainty and complex political environments. It was prepared by Alan Schwartz of PolicyFutures, LLC, who designed and facilitated the scenarios exercise.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.

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