there used to be this debate about how democratic the iranian system really is. on one side, you had people pointing out that the system has elements of democracy. the president, for example, is elected democratically. prior to 2009, iranian elections were generally pretty clean and had sometimes resulted in the election of someone other than the preferred candidate of the clerical elite. mohammed katami, for example, was elected and then reelected as president despite the fact that he ran both times as a reformer. mahmoud ahmadinejad wasn't the mullah's choice when he first ran and won in 2005.
on the other side, you had people pointing out that even if the elections that are free and fair when the vote is cast, they're not really democratic because the mullah got to pre-screen the candidates. essentially, they have the power to declare anyone who wants to run as not sufficiently islamic, thus denying their place on the ballot before anyone even begins to campaign.
of course, the above debate is now a bit of an anachronism. while it's not certain exactly who should have won the 2009 election, it is now pretty widely accepted that it was anything but free and fair. but the general question remains: is a system really a democracy when the government gets to exclude the candidates it doesn't like?
which is what i keep thinking about when i read about the exclusion of prominent iraqi politicians from the upcoming national elections. can we really say that the u.s. has instilled a democracy when the ruling government has the power to do that? i guess i'm on the same side as kenneth pollack and michael o'hanlon in this one.