Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

** Dahr Jamail's Iraq Dispatches **
** **

Dying for Democracy

Sunday Herald
January 23, 2004

Violence and fear is growing in Iraq ahead of next Sunday’s vote. Dahr
Jamail, in Baghdad, Foreign Editor David Pratt, in Basra, and Diplomatic
Editor Trevor Royle report

“I will not be voting because it is a useless charade,” says Salah
Abrahim as he pushes his car towards a petrol station to get fuel in a
bustling street in the Karrada district of Baghdad, a sector of the
capital city populated primarily by Shia Muslims.

“Any clever person can see that this war and its expenditures would lead
to a government that opposes the Americans.”

Others on the same street are more sanguine about Iraq’s first free
elections in more than half a century and will obey the fatwa issued by
the Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most
revered religious leader in Iraq and a supporter of the elections. As
the majority of the Shia in Iraq live by his edicts, it is likely that
his representatives will gain the most seats in the transitional
parliament and that is a powerful spur for younger Shia voters like Alia
Halaf who can only remember the oppression of the Saddam Hussein period
and the hegemony of the Ba’ath Party. “I will vote no matter how many
car bombs are used,” he explains. “My 17-year-old neighbour was
kidnapped, so I hope the elections will bring us more security. They
simply must.”

Abrahim and Halaf represent two contrasting views from a capital which
is in one of the four provinces where voting will be dangerous and, to
all intents and purposes, undemocratic. They are the two extremes of
this election on which so many hopes are pinned.

Hope, expectation and fear are the emotions that are coursing through
Iraq this weekend. The hope is driven by the fact that opinion polls
show that 85% of Iraqis are anxious to vote, balanced by the fact that
perhaps only half that number will actually manage to get through to one
of the 5000 specially prepared polling stations. The expectation is
that, despite all the problems, there will be a sufficiently high
turnout to ensure that enough votes are cast to enable the new 275-seat
National Assembly to come into being. But everywhere throughout this
war-torn country is the fear that insurgents and foreign fighters will
attempt to disrupt the process by causing chaos and intimidating the
electorate. Speaking after suicide bombers had killed 25 people in two
attacks in Baghdad last week, interim prime minister Iyad Allawi
admitted yesterday that the attackers would “try to make the political
process fail” and that the security forces would be hard pushed to
contain them.

The admission comes at a time of heightened tensions, with Sunni
terrorist groups targeting the Shia population in a last-ditch attempt
to dissuade them from voting as part of a wider campaign to create an
atmosphere of fear and panic. Yesterday, the rebel group Ansar al-Sunnah
said it had shot dead 15 Iraqi National Guard members it abducted
northwest of Baghdad this month. In some parts of the country,
especially in the capital, fear is taking grip. People might want to
vote but they also dread the consequences. Last Wednesday, five suicide
car bombs detonated across the capital in nearly 90 minutes, killing at
least 26 people and the following day two polling stations were attacked
with mortars and gunfire in Beji, along with a school which was being
set up as a polling station. Shops distributing polling papers along
with the monthly food ration cards have been burned down and their
owners attacked.

For the US-led coalition, a successful election could herald a return to
normality, although senior commanders are not putting too much faith in
Allawi’s assertion that the “elections will play a big role in calming
the situation and enable the next government to face the upcoming
challenges in a decisive manner.” For the majority Shia population,
repressed during the Saddam era, a good turnout will enhance their
chances of dominating the new assembly and finally getting their place
in the sun.

The Kurds in the north feel much the same way and will vote in force for
their parties which have formed a united front. They enjoyed a measure
of stability and self-confidence during the 1990s when they were under
the protection of the no-fly zones imposed by Britain and the US, but it
is the Sunni population who bring the other extreme to the equation.
Their main party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has already decided to
boycott the election and there is bound to be a low turnout in Sunni
areas; they represent 50% of the population in the four provinces where
voting is already expected to be low – Nineveh, Anbar, Salahadin and
Baghdad – which together make up a quarter of Iraq’s population. In
Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, 700 officials of the Independent
Commission for Elections, including the head and members of the
committee and polling staff, have resigned after receiving death threats.

In a bid to end the boycott, Iraq’s defence minister Hazem Saalan has
called on Egypt to approach Sunni leaders urging them to participate in
the poll, but in Iraq the request will fall on deaf ears. Some Sunnis
have already made their feelings clear by tearing up their ballots.
“That is what I think of this mess,” said one young Sunni as he threw
the torn pieces of his ballot paper into the mud on Baghdad’s Sa’adoun
Street, “Allawi-Bush will stay in power anyhow!”

To add to the complications, the process of voting has been obscured to
the point where many voters will have little clue about the candidates
until they see the ballot papers next Sunday. These will list party
coalitions, with only a few running independently, but the majority of
the parties have removed the names of their candidates from the list. An
estimated 5000 names will not be recorded until the day itself. This has
nothing to do with unnecessary secrecy but everything to do with
necessary security as at least eight candidates have been assassinated
in the past few days. But with more than 83 lists on the ballot, each
with up to 275 unnamed candidates, confusion reigns among many Iraqis
who will be expected to vote in order to fill the seats in the new assembly.

After the count, the seats will be allocated by exact proportional
representation and, as the whole country is being treated as a single
constituency, each party group will get the same proportion of seats as
it receives in the ballot. As the Sunnis will either refuse to take part
in the election or will be intimidated by the violence the process will
tell against them. Already they only represent 20% of the electorate and
there is bound to be a diminution of their representation and that will
play into the hands of the Shias whose parties are standing under the
coalition list known as the United Iraqi Alliance. Also expected to do
well is Allawi’s Iraqi List which represents the interests of the
interim administration which will attract voters like Ghassan, a young
biology teacher in Diyallah province. “I don’t know who is nominated for
them and I worry about how all of this will succeed but I will vote
because I think it will be good,” he admits. “We’ve never had an
election in my life.

To protect those who want to vote, whatever the circumstances, the
interim administration has put in place a wide range of security
measures. The country’s borders will be closed from Saturday, January 29
– the eve of polling – for three days and mobile and satellite phone
services will be taken off-air to prevent them being used as triggers
for suicide bombers. Traffic around polling stations will also be
controlled and each will be protected by three rings of heavy security
to lessen the risk of car bombs. A dawn-to-dusk curfew has already been
instituted and travel on the main highways is being limited to essential
services with special permits, but even these strict measures are not
expected to keep the determined terrorists at bay. Bowing to the
inevitable fact that the suicide bomber will always get through, the
ministry of health has announced that hospitals will be on high alert
throughout the day to deal with the expected casualties. And that is the
unhappy bottom line for this election.

Carlos Valenzuela, the head of the UN’s election advisory team, has
voiced the hope that despite the fear which is all too apparent all over
Iraq it is important “to convince Iraqis that this is a real election
and not a Mickey Mouse election”. However, as he has already seen in
places like East Timor where there were similar problems during the
period of transition, he also admits violence could easily derail the
process. Officially the responsibility for overseeing the security on
election day falls to the fledgling Iraqi security forces, but the
reality is that the election stands or falls on the capacity of the
US-led coalition forces. The US and British garrisons have both been
reinforced – there are now 150,000 US troops in the country – and
commanders will keep their forces on high alert throughout the election
period. They know that for all the rhetoric of Iraqification they hold
primacy in security matters, a point that was made clear when a senior
US commander earlier declared that Iraqi policemen were “just lambs
being sent to slaughter”. Even Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British
representative to the coalition authority, admitted last week that the
security situationwas “irremediable and ineradicable”.

In its short and troubled history, Iraq is no stranger to the turmoil
caused by internecine strife. The country only came into being in the
aftermath of the first world war when Britain and France carved out
spheres of influence – previously it was the Ottoman province of
Mesopotamia – and in that time it has witnessed the assassination of
leaders such as King Faisal II in 1958 and the long period of Saddam’s
dictatorship. Small wonder its people have an ambivalent attitude to the
forthcoming elections. Most want a return to normality and everyone
wants to see the removal of the occupying forces but they also fear what
the future might bring.

As palm fronds blow in the breeze at the end of a grey day in Baghdad, a
policeman who asks to be called Ali, pulls his black ski-mask further up
his face as he articulates the conundrum facing his people. “I think
most Iraqis just want security and jobs,” he says. “I don’t care which
party wins, we just want peace and a better living situation. But I
don’t see how January 30 will change any of this.”
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