Dec 15, 2005
THE ROVING EYE
We vote, then we throw you out
By Pepe Escobar
First, a quick look at the environment ahead of Thursday’s elections in Iraq. Political assassinations, party headquarters burned, abductions (all largely unreported by Western corporate media). A former prime minister, Iyad Allawi – widely known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a moustache” – saying on the record that human rights in President George W Bush’s Iraq are worse than they were under Saddam.
Current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari’s Da’wa Party accusing Allawi of defending the occupiers. Allawi accusing Jaafari’s government of corruption. Former Pentagon asset Ahmad Chalabi’s campaign posters with the inscription, “We liberated Iraq.”
A network of secret torture prisons and charnel houses. Fear and loathing in militia hell. American military operations to “secure peaceful voting”. All traffic circulation prohibited by the occupiers (to prevent car bombings). The borders with both Syria and Jordan, as well as Baghdad’s airport, all closed.
Satanic, free and fair
We all knew what some were going to say. Saddam Hussein – preparing his next coup de theater in court – declared the elections “a farce”. Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, plus four other jihadi groups, denounced them as “a satanic project”, vowing to perpetuate the jihad, fighting for “an Islamic state ruled by the book [the Koran] and the traditions of Prophet Mohammed”.
Other positions are more nuanced. On Monday, a leaflet was widely distributed in the Azamiyah neighborhood in Baghdad stating that Sunni Arabs might have a chance to reinforce their position through the elections, but “the fighting will continue with the infidels and their followers”.
The Bush administration spin – faithfully reproduced by Western corporate media quoting the usual (“US officials”) suspects – follows the same wishful script: a “large turnout” among the “disaffected Sunni Arab minority” that “could” produce a government “capable of winning the trust of the Sunnis”, “defusing the insurgency” and thus leading the US “and other foreign troops” to start going home by 2006.
The favorite Anglo-American election candidate supposedly capable of pulling it all off is once again Allawi – a truculent secular Shi’ite who was once a Ba’athist (he has kept the good connections) before he became anti-Saddam and a US intelligence asset. The White House may forget it, but Iraqis don’t; Allawi gave the go-ahead for the American leveling of Fallujah and the American bombing of holy Najaf in 2004.
A few days ago he was bombarded with shoes and chased away from the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. British Prime Minister Tony Blair supports him and considers him “the best hope” for Iraq. Pentagon analysts agree, as one of them told The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh that “he would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq … mission accomplished. A coup for Bush.”
But no amount of feel good stories disguise the fact that the American project is doomed to fail because the premise itself is flawed – a semblance of democracy as the offspring of an illegal invasion and foreign occupation. Moreover, this White House-promoted and/or imposed “fast food democracy” has been sectarian-based from the start. It is inexorably leading to the Lebanonization of Iraq, a phenomenon parallel to the Iraqification of the occupation.
Iraqi voters have their own reasons to question whether these elections are free and fair. For starters, most are not interested; what really glues them to TV sets is Saddam on trial (the majority of Iraqis, Shi’ites and Kurds, has already condemned him to death). There’s poor security for the voters; they can only hope they won’t be blown to smithereens when they take the mandatory walk to the polling station to choose between 231 political parties, coalitions and individual candidates.
And there’s little security for the almost 7,000 candidates either. The bulk of the campaigning has been on TV; this means only a few flush parties stood a chance. Live campaigning led in many cases to abduction and even assassination. Moreover, most voters are not exactly sure of what they’re doing. Recent polls have revealed that at least half of the Iraqi population is still not convinced of the merits of Western-style democracy, at least the White House-promoted version.
Half believe that the occupiers should have never set foot in Mesopotamia. Sixty percent think that they turned the country into an even bigger disaster than it was after the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the first Gulf war in 1991 and 12 years of United Nations sanctions. And two thirds of the population wants the occupiers out. Half the people polled by the BBC said Iraq needed a strong leader (a “Saddam without a moustache”?) And only 28% said democracy was a priority.
The full Shi’ite agenda
It takes just a little political acumen to tell which way the (desert) wind blows. By the end of November, Shi’ite firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had made his move, coming out with all his political guns blazing to promote a “pact of honor”, which he called Iraqi parties to subscribe to.
Last Thursday, in the Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya, the 14-point pact was signed by an impressive array of political heavyweights. Among them: the two main Shi’ite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Da’wa; the Sadrists; the Iraqi Concord Front (which is a coalition of the three major Sunni Arab parties); Ahmad Chalabi (in person); members of the de-Ba’aathification committee; a number of tribal chiefs; unions; social associations; and government employees.
Among the crucial points of the pact are: withdrawal of the occupiers and setting of an objective timetable for their withdrawal from Iraq; elimination of all the consequences of their presence, including any bases for them in the country, while working seriously for the building of [Iraqi] security institutions and military forces within a defined schedule; no more immunity for the occupation troops; no relations whatsoever with Israel; a condemnation of terrorism (“We condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing, abducting and expulsion aimed at innocent citizens for sectarian reasons.”); a condemnation of the Ba’ath Party as “a terrorist organization” and an urge “to speed up the trial of overthrown president Saddam Hussein”; and a decision to “postpone the implementation of the disputed principle of federalism”.
This, in a nutshell, is the Shi’ite agenda for the new Iraq, potentially embracing 62% of the population of roughly 25 million to 26 million. The pact may have been a Sadrist move, but there’s no reason to believe these decisions will not be implemented as the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which is dominated by the SCIRI, Da’wa and the Sadrists, is set to become the majority in the new, 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. The whole numbers issue in the elections is by which percentage the UIA will be a majority compared to the Kurdistan coalition and the Iraqi Concord Front.
The main players
The UIA, list number 555, created with the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, received almost 50% of the votes in the January elections. Now the 18-party UIA is weaker because some parties defected. Sistani stated his position last Sunday. In January, he practically ordered all Shi’ites to vote for the UIA. Now, he is more nuanced. “These elections are just as important as the preceding ones, and citizens – both male and female – must participate in them on a wide scale in order to guarantee a big and powerful presence for those who will safeguard their verities and work energetically for their higher interests in the next parliament.”
Although not explicitly endorsing the UIA, he did advise all Shi’ites to not split and not waste their vote; this would mean something like “vote for the UIA, not for Allawi”. Politically, the…