Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraqis Vote for Freedom and Safety, But They May Get Neither

The turnout for the election in Iraq is reportedly very high, particularly among Sunnis. The Guardian Unlimited says that in some polling places in Sunni areas there were too few ballots for the number of voters. Of course this is what the Bush administration ostensibly wants -- to make the invasion and occupation look like the right decision. Ironically, though, many Sunnis were motivated to vote so they could hasten the day when the U.S. military presence in Iraq will end.

Many Sunnis said they voted to register their opposition to the Shiite-led government and to speed the end of the U.S. military presence.

"Liberation is the most important thing for all Iraqis," said Sunni grocer Omar Badry. "I don't care if we die of thirst and hunger, as long as the Americans leave."

From the Pakistan Daily Times:

A nationwide calm, imposed by a three-day traffic ban, sealed borders and heavy security, was also broken by mortars in Samarra and Tikrit. An explosion rocked Ramadi, another bastion of Sunni revolt.

But in a remarkable turnaround from the January poll, people lined up to vote in the western city, determined to have a say in the new, fully empowered, four-year parliament. They had boycotted the first post-Saddam election.

"I'm delighted to be voting for the first time because this election will lead to the American occupation forces leaving Ramadi and Iraq," said 21-year-old Jamal Mahmoud.

In Falluja, scene of the biggest battle between U.S. forces and rebels a year ago, the worst problems were a shortage of ballot papers and of vehicles to ferry the infirm to polling stations along roads closed to other traffic. "We don't have enough cars to cope," said Electoral Commission official Najib Mahmoud. "Huge numbers of voters are waiting at stations but they don't have enough ballot papers."

Not a good thing, if it keeps large numbers of would-be voters from doing so.

Most of the media is highlighting the low levels of violence. Dexter Filkins in the New York Times called the election "remarkable for its calm ... strikingly peaceful, even in areas normally beset by violence."

But of course the day was not calm or peaceful, just very adroitly managed. Juan Cole, quoted in William Rivers Pitt's online magazine Peace Journalism, says:

"As with the Jan. 30 elections, ... the Dec. 15 elections are not being held in accordance with international standards of fairness, and cannot be. Proper elections would require that security be provided to voters and candidates. But there is no security. In many parts of the center-north, voters will have no guarantee of coming home alive. The only way the vote will happen at all is that the US military has forbidden all vehicular traffic, so everyone has to walk for the next few days. This tactic prevents car bombings from disrupting the elections, but it is a desperate measure and not a sign of an election that could be certified as free and fair."

Prof. Cole also warns us, in his blog post about the elections at Informed Comment, against interpreting the election results to mean that U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq and coming home in the near future.

I cannot imagine why anyone thinks that. The Iraqi "government" is a failed state. Virtually no order it gives has any likelihood of being implemented. It has no army to speak of and cannot control the country. Its parliamentarians are attacked and sometimes killed with impunity. Its oil pipelines are routinely bombed, depriving it of desperately needed income. It faces a powerful guerrilla movement that is wholly uninterested in the results of elections and just wants to overthrow the new order. Elections are unlikely to change any of this.

The only way in which these elections may lead to a US withdrawal is that they will ensconce parliamentarians who want the US out on a short timetable. Virtually all the Sunnis who come in will push for that result (which is why the US Right is silly to be all agog about Fallujans voting), and so with the members of the Sadr Movement, now a key component of the Shiite religious United Iraqi Alliance. That is, these elections lead to a US withdrawal on terms unfavorable to the Bush administration. Nor is there much hope that a parliament that kicked the US out could turn around and restore order in the country.

The aforementioned William Rivers Pitt also believes it's a big mistake to think the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections will solve anything in the long run. In fact, they could make things much worse, because no matter how you slice it, the Shiites are going to be the big winners (as Pitt notes, even if every Sunni in Iraq votes, the Sunnis are only 20% of Iraq's population) -- and the biggest winner in an Iraqi government dominated by the Shiites will be Iran.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Iraqi elections on Friday come off without a hitch. No one is killed, maimed or intimidated into voting for a particular candidate by having a gun barrel put to his head. There are no hanging chads, no mayhem or madness. What will the Iraqi and American people get out of the incredible blood and treasure we have poured into this conflict?

We will get an Iraqi government dominated by known and notorious terrorists. We will get an Iraqi government dominated by Iran.

The Shia will walk away from Friday with the lion's share of control over the Iraqi government. The two most powerful Shia political parties, the ones that will come out of this with the big wins, are the Dawa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is known by the initials SCIRI. Both were founded and funded by Iran in the 1980s. Both have a history of spectacular violence against the United States and other nations. "These guys are murderers," says former CIA agent Bob Baer, who dealt with Dawa during the 1980s. "They were the core element that blew up our embassy in Beirut in 1983."

Paul Mulshine, writing last week for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, encapsulates this amazing turn of events. "What would you call someone who wants to hand over control of Iraq to a group of terrorists that first made its reputation by blowing up a couple of American embassies?" wrote Mulshine. "I'd call him President Bush. The group is called the Dawa party. In the early 1980s, Dawa terrorists bombed our embassies in Kuwait and in Lebanon. They were universally recognized as vicious America-hating, Iranian-supported terrorists. Now they're part of the coalition that is expected to win control of the new Iraqi parliament in Thursday's elections."

"The other coalition partners aren't much better," continued Mulshine. "The sanest group on the Shi'a side is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. A 1984 Washington Post story portrayed the group, known by its initials SCIRI, as 'a kind of parent organization for four operational terrorist groups.' SCIRI was founded in Iran a couple of years earlier by the Ayatollah Khomeini with the goal of taking control of Iraq. Now, they're about to do so, courtesy of George W. Bush."
It seems the best path to electoral victory in Iraq, besides kissing babies and avoiding assassins, involves a long history of terrorism and extreme violence against the United States. Former CIA agent Bob Baer stated in Mulshine's article, "So now we have a Shia terrorist state. Was this worth $6 billion a month?"

Almost certainly, we will hear apologists for both the Bush administration and the invasion downplay the incredible terrorist histories of the groups about to take over the Iraqi government. "Sure they were terrorists," we will hear, "but they're OK now." In other words, they are terrorists, but they are our terrorists.

Saddam Hussein was our terrorist in Iraq for years, so long as he directed his terrorism primarily at Iran. Osama bin Laden was our terrorist in Afghanistan for years, so long as he directed his terrorism at the Soviet Union. Anyone seeing a pattern developing here?

Just how interested is Iran in Friday's elections? The New York Times reported on Wednesday that, "Less than two days before nationwide elections, the Iraqi border police seized a tanker on Tuesday that had just crossed from Iran filled with thousands of forged ballots, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The Iranian truck driver told the police under interrogation that at least three other trucks filled with ballots had crossed from Iran at different spots along the border." American democracy at its finest, it seems.

It is amazing to consider that Americans, who have almost completely lost faith in the vote as an effective means of political participation at home, are somehow expected to believe that this vote will solve Iraq's incredible problems. One wonders how long it will be before the Vanishing Voter Project opens an office in Baghdad. In Iraq, of course, vanishing voters carry an entirely different meaning.

Don't get your hopes up come Friday. The worst possible outcome will involve horrific bloodshed and unrest. The best possible outcome will place two notoriously deadly terrorist organizations in charge of Iraq. Was this trip really necessary?

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