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Iraq Election A Sham: Bring The Troops Home!

Iraq Election A Sham: Bring The Troops Home!

Rohan Pearce
Green Left Weekly

‘‘We are blessed to live in hopeful times'', US President George Bush told an admiring audience in Washington on January 18. ‘‘In coming days, the Iraqi people will have their chance to go to the polls, to begin the process of creating a democratic government that will answer to the people, instead of to a thug and a tyrant''. Unfortunately for the Bush administration, the gap between its claims about Iraq and the reality is so vast that any comment it makes on the subject guarantees an embarrassing abundance of irony.

In this case it was the New Yorker magazine publishing a profile of Iyad Allawi the day before Bush's speech. In the article, John Anderson detailed more evidence that, in the week before the US appointed him as Iraq's prime minister, Allawi had executed six Iraqis held prisoner at a police station in Baghdad. They were suspected of taking up arms against the US-led occupation forces.

Anderson observed: ‘‘Just as, in the past, Iraqis hid their true feelings about Saddam's brutal tyranny by referring to him as ‘strict', Iraqis today commonly describe Allawi as ‘tough'. It is an oddly polite term — a euphemism — that conceals varying degrees of fear, loathing, and admiration.'' A friend of Allawi's told Anderson: ‘‘Iyad's a thug, but a thug where he needs to be one. The Americans who set this up call him Saddam Lite.'' Such is the kind of human material out of which the Bush administration is building a new ‘‘democratic'' regime in Iraq.

But despite the gulf between the propaganda pumped out by Washington and the reality of Iraq's war-ravaged infrastructure, the violence meted out by the occupation forces to their Iraqi opponents and widespread Iraqi hostility toward the occupation, the corporate news media has been filled with a flood of commentaries heralding the ‘‘birth'' of the ‘‘new'' Iraq.

Yet, according to Sabah Al Mukhtar, president of the League of Arab Lawyers (quoted in a January 18 article by Felicity Arbuthnot reproduced on the website of the Centre for Research on Globalisation), under international law ‘‘an occupying force has no right to change the composition of occupied territories socially, culturally, educationally or politically. This election was based on the laws laid down by former ‘viceroy' American Paul Bremer and is entirely unconstitutional. Bremer personally appointed the overseers for the election.''

For most Iraqis it isn't the legal technicalities that will render the election illegitimate, it is the fact that around 170,000 US and allied foreign troops — the so-called Multinational Force (MNF) — occupy Iraq, guaranteeing that Washington's interests aren't threatened. ‘‘Security'' remains the prerogative of the US-led occupation forces, occasionally supplemented in military operations by MNF-recruited, trained and commanded Iraqi military forces.

Sunni boycott call

Those areas where the occupation forces' reign in Iraq has been seriously challenged by Iraqi resistance fighters will miss out on a chance to participate in the country's ‘‘historic vote'' on January 30. But the exclusion of a substantial proportion of the population from participation in the election won't stop Washington and the Western corporate media from greeting the resulting Iraqi parliament as a genuine expression of Iraqi popular will.

A significant blow to Washington's ability to present the election as ‘‘fair'', free'' and ‘‘democratic'' is the likelihood of a large-scale boycott by Iraq's Sunni Muslim population. The Sunnis — the third of the country's population that provided the former Baathist regime with its most significant social base — have suffered far more extreme repression from the occupation forces than the rest of the population and most of the attacks on US troops have occurred in predominately Sunni-inhabited areas.

The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), the most prominent Sunni party that the occupiers have allowed to legally operate, is refusing to participate in the election and the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), an influential body of Sunni clerics, has called for a boycott. On January 8, a representative for the AMS told a US embassy official that the group would withdraw its call for a boycott of the election if the occupation regime would set a date for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

According to an AMS spokesperson, the group's representative in the meeting, Dr Harith al Dhari, ‘‘insisted that a timeframe for the withdrawal of the occupation forces be set and guaranteed by the United Nations'', adding that if this happened, ‘the association will call on other parties [calling for a] boycott to participate in the election''.

An AMS official said the meeting with the US embassy official had some positives ‘‘because the Americans now know who has a sway on the Iraqi streets. They now know where to go to and who to talk to.''

The IIP and the AMS have been joined by a number of other organisations in calling for a boycott. On November 15, the Iraqi National Constituent Conference released a statement calling for a boycott because the conditions for a free and fair election had not been met. The statement called ‘‘on all our people to boycott it and to turn their back on the disinformation aimed at forcing the process, and to defraud the will of our people in Iraq, through legitimating the plans of the occupation authorities and the unelected government''.

Signatories to the statement included the Arab Nationalist Movement, the Democratic Reform Party, the Unified People's Party, the Iraqi Turkoman Front, the Iraqi Christian Democratic Party, the Islamic Bloc in Iraq, the Union of Iraqi Jurists, the Higher Committee for Human Rights and the Iraqi Women's Association, as well as the AMS.

Shiites divided

In contrast to the AMS-called boycott, the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has issued a fatwa (religious edict) instructing Iraqis to vote. The Shia clerical elite have seized on the election to try to cement their political grip on post-Hussein Iraq.

While Sistani and his supporters have tried to not be too closely associated with the US-led occupation and although they have, like all the most important political figures in Iraq, called for a ‘‘timetable'' for the withdrawal of foreign troops, they have made it clear to Washington that any government they form will not be incompatible with Washington's aims. This has extended to attempting to publicly distance themselves from the Iran's Shiite semi-theocracy, which Washington considers a candidate for a future Iraq-style ‘‘regime change''.

However, Iraq's Shia clergy have not been unanimous in their enthusiasm for the US-dictated election. At a December 10 sermon in Baghdad's Sadr City, a cleric aligned with Moqtada al Sadr, who led an armed Shiite rebellion against the US occupation forces last year, stated: ‘‘Here we have America bombarding the cities for the sake of elections, and here we have parties that claim that the elections will create security and normality, forgetting the presence of the occupation.''

According to a website report by the London-based Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation, the pro-Sadr cleric also denounced attempts to divide Iraqis on the basis of religion, saying that he did ‘‘not want to vote but for an honest Iraqi, not a Sunni or a Shia, but an Iraqi who safeguards our dignity'' and who believes in ‘‘independence and unity''.

While Sadr's movement has challenged the legitimacy of an election conducted under foreign occupation, his followers have also engaged in negotiations with the Sistani-aligned United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Sadr is not running in the election, however some of his supporters will be running on both the UIA ticket and the ‘‘Independent Nationalist Cadres and Elites'', a ticket led by Fathallah Ismail, a pro-Sadr journalist. According to the London Economist, the latter slate, support for which is strongest in Baghdad's two-million-strong Sadr City slum, has not been publicly endorsed by Sadr.

Main slates

The three slates for the National Assembly election generally considered to be most important are:

* The UIA, which is dominated by Shia Islamist parties including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa al Islamiyya (Islamic Call). It is reportedly endorsed by Sistani. The UIA list also includes Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the CIA-created Iraqi National Congress and a former favourite of US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld to head Washington's puppet regime in Iraq.

* The Iraqi List, headed by Allawi and associated with the Iraqi National Accord, another US-funded group, credited with organising terrorist bombings inside Iraq in the mid 1990s. The Iraqi List has had the most extensive advertising campaign of all the tickets (no doubt funded in large part from Washington) and will benefit from Allawi being one of the few widely known political figures running in the election.

* The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan, which comprises of the two main pro-US Kurdish parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party — and a number of smaller Kurdish parties, including the Kurdistan Communist Party, as well as former high-ranking members of the outlawed Baath Party.

Other slates include the People's Union (led by the Iraqi Communist Party, which has participated in Allawi's government) and The Iraqis led by Ghazi Mashal Ajil al Yawir, Iraq's US-appointed interim president and leader of the Shammar tribe, and Hazem Shalan, the US-appointed Iraqi defence minister.

The widespread hostility of Iraqis to the US-led occupation is reflected in the call by both the Sistani-aligned and Allawi-aligned slates for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The January 19 London Financial Times reported: “Many of Iraq's leading political factions in this month's parliamentary elections, including the coalition of Iyad Allawi, prime minister, and his Islamist rivals, are calling for the withdrawal of US troops in their campaign platforms. Yet few appear to be interested in seriously pushing the issue after being elected.”

Whatever the outcome of the January 30 election, the US occupation will continue. The January 14 New York Sun reported that while “the Bush administration drops hints about withdrawing troops from Iraq as early as this year, the Pentagon is building a permanent military communications system that suggests American soldiers will be in Iraq for the foreseeable future”.

The paper reported that “according to experts as well as some Pentagon officials, the new investments indicate that there will at least be some level of American forces in Iraq for several years to come... Other Pentagon officials familiar with the project told the Sun that its scope, which plans to eventually connect American bases in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and even Afghanistan, indicates a commitment to a long-term presence in the region, including Iraq.”

From Green Left Weeklynuary 26, 2005.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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