“A Mixed Story,” by Juan Cole, Informed Consent, http://www.juancole.com/2005/01/mixed-story-im-just-appalled-by.html, 30 January 2005.
I’m just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a “political earthquake” and “a historical first step” for Iraq.It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn’t been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders.
Oh? Is Cole saying that Allawi and Hakim are unknown?
Or less known that challengers in most American elections?
Or that it’s unclear what Allawi’s policies would be?
Or what the Kurdistan Alliance wants?
Or is Cole complaining about proportional parliamentary representation in general?
But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain
Let’s see… what else happened in Bahrain in 2002…
In February 2002, Amir HAMAD bin Isa Al Khalifa proclaimed himself king. In October 2002, Bahrainis elected members of the lower house of Bahrain’s reconstituted bicameral legislature, the National Assembly.
Well, there’s always…
The election of President Pervez Musharraf’s candidate for Prime Minister of Pakistan is a big victory for Musharraf, and for U.S. efforts to retain Pakistan’s support in the war against terror. Zafarullah Khan Jamali, 58, a tribal chieftain from Baluchistan, narrowly defeated his closest rival, a pro-Taliban preacher. But his slim, one-vote majority reeked of political bullying and dealmaking. It was an arrangement rigged outside Parliament, struck in lengthy telephone calls to an exiled politician hoping for a comeback and, a losing candidate claims, tainted by bribes and threats.
Continuing with Cole…
Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.
I would imagine that the Allied Occupation of Germany gives the live to a supposed devotion to Deutche federalism.
Embracing Defeat, a book quite sympathetic to communist and leftist elements in Japan during the Occupation, criticizes SCAP for reversing some of its demilitarization and democratization plans. But Cole’s writing is hyperbole. Perhaps he should learn the history of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers before he talks about people wanting to “be MacArthur.”
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly “extremely offended” at these two demands and opposed Sistani.
An alternative explanation is in America’s Secret War.
Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn’t hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn’t use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.
This had nothing to do with the fact that:
The food ration card plan was opposed because the Ba’athis had drawn up the cards, so it would underrepresent Shia and Kurds, and
Shia and Kurds declared they didn’t care, as long as the election was soon as possible?
Politics is complicated. Again, I don’t know everything. But not every situation is a conspiracy.
So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi,
Like Afghanistan is now a soft dictatorship under Karzai?
or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables.
SCIRI is so pro-American. So are the Iranians.
It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.
How many polling places were overrun by insurgents? None.
What fraction of the country voted? About 60%.
But this is not “truly aboveboard.”
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. (This is the part of the process that I called a “joke,” and I stand by that.)
Which one is it? Are candidates secret? Or are names associated with lists?
This thing was more like a referendum than an election. It was a referendum on which major party list associated with which major leader would lead parliament.
“… a referendum on which major party…”
So like any multi-party democracy in the world?
Many 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. The new parliament is unlikely to make such a demand immediately, because its members will be afraid of being killed by the Baath military. One fears a certain amount of resentment among the electorate when this reticence becomes clear.
Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another “Mission Accomplished” moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed “election” isn’t a Mardi Gras for Americans and they’ll regret it if that is the way they treat it.