Monday, October 17, 2005

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW how Sunni Arabs in Iraq feel about the constitution that was voted on yesterday, read this article by Anthony Shadid, the Washington Post's correspondent in Baghdad. Unlike the rest of the MSM coverage of yesterday's referendum, Shadid does not just write that the Sunnis couldn't muster the votes to defeat the constitution; and he does not quote Condoleezza Rice on how wonderful it is that the yes votes seem to have won the day.

Instead, he gets out of his own way and lets the residents of Adhamiya, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, tell us why, for them, this charter is a disaster and a sham. Here are some selected passages:

Bald, his once-barreled chest now shriveled, Hassan Mehdi Mohammed hobbled Saturday into the polling station, housed in a worn-out school in the often-restive Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiyah. His steel cane told his story: A veteran Arab nationalist and activist, his left leg was shattered by gunfire more than 40 years ago in a protest against one in a long line of Iraqi dictators. For a moment, he cast his glance at the two-story building around him.

"When I was young, I could have scaled these walls," he said, smiling.

On Saturday, the 73-year-old Mehdi fought what may be his last battle, in a time that he called the most difficult in Iraq's history. He came to cast his ballot against a constitution he believes will divide his country forever.

"I had to vote," he said, "to prove that we're still one nation -- Sunni and Shiite."

Saturday was a day of anger and desperation, regret and occasionally hope in Adhamiyah, a quarter of Baghdad whose very name has become synonymous with Sunni Muslim orthodoxy. Through the sometimes narrow streets that snake among low-slung buildings of tan brick beside the Tigris River, droves went to cast ballots in the referendum on a new constitution. There were men who had spent time in American detention, elderly people in wheelchairs, men who shuttered their shops and women clutching their children. Their numbers proved to be one of the day's most indelible images, and in contrast with the parliamentary elections in January, which the community largely boycotted, Sunni Arabs would have their say this time around.

Some said meekly that they supported the constitution, hoping for something better than the present. But in the crowded polling stations, more supported a "no" vote -- an endorsement of an imagined past over a promised future.

"We can't underestimate the value of Iraq. We want it to stay one, united," said Ibtihaj Ismail, an ailing 47-year-old woman who was helped by her family into a polling station in an elementary school. In front of a crowd, she marked her ballot "no" with a black pen.
"The constitution is Persian. It's not Iraqi," said Jamal Alwan, 41, referring to the dominant ethnic group in Iran, as he headed to the polling station at the Noaman High School for Girls. His friend, 34-year-old Wisam Ali, nodded his head. He, too, was planning to vote "no."

"Do we vote for the massacres of Fallujah, for the massacres of Qaim?" Ali said, referring to Sunni cities in western Iraq where U.S. troops have fought insurgents. "The government is Persian, and the occupation is American. When the Americans withdraw from Iraq, then we'll agree on a constitution. God willing, we'll scuttle this one."
Under a hot sun on a cloudless day, Alwan and his friends listed their grievances.

"Sectarianism," volunteered Alwan, who said he was detained by U.S. forces in southern Iraq during January's vote for the National Assembly.

"Stealing our resources and losing our rights," said another friend, Suheib Muhi.

"At the basis, it's the occupation," Ali said.

"And those who serve it," Alwan added.

Read the whole thing. This is the only article I've seen on the vote in Iraq that leaves you understanding more than you did before.

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