Monday, January 31, 2005

AMID THE ECSTATIC COVERAGE of the Iraq elections today, Juan Cole is, as usual, clear-eyed and honest. Of course it's moving to see Iraqis casting ballots for the first time in 50 years, and the scenes of joyful voters standing on long lines, braving insurgents' threats of violence, and even dancing in the streets, would be moving to anyone. There's no question that this election was an historic event, and laden with significance for Iraq's future. But it's far from being a sign that freedom and democracy are busting out all over.

With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed "election." Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.

The Iraqis did not know the names of the candidates for whom they were supposedly voting. What kind of an election is anonymous! There were even some angry politicians late last week who found out they had been included on lists without their permission. Al-Zaman compared the election process to buying fruit wholesale and sight unseen.

And before the Bush administration leaps up to paint the 60% turnout as a vindication of the U.S. invasion and a statement of Iraqi support for the American presence in Iraq, consider the strong possibility that "[m]any of the voters came out to cast their ballots in the belief that it was the only way to regain enough sovereignty to get American troops back out of their country." In that sense, the election was a measure of how much Iraqis hate and resent the American presence in Iraq.

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