By Farooq Sulehria
Ironically, exactly a year ago, in January 2004, 100,000 people
were chanting this slogan on the Baghdad streets: 'Yes, yes to elections.
No, no to selection'. Another 30,000 repeated this slogan on the
streets of Basra. The elections were delayed in view of the forthcoming
US presidential elections. Meanwhile, elections were hastened in
Afghanistan despite Karzai's repeated requests for postponement
-- again, in view of the forthcoming US presidential elections.
The managers running Bush's election campaign needed the Afghan
elections as something to boast over -- an elected Karzai would
be a good poster boy for their own election campaign. Iraq, they
knew, would not offer any such poster image. Hence, the 'Yes,
yes to elections' chants remained unheard in Washington. Or perhaps
heard pre-emptively, if one goes by the views of the well known
activist and writer Naomi Klein: "On Nov. 11, 2003, Paul
Bremer, then chief U.S. envoy to Iraq, flew to Washington to meet
with President George W. Bush. The two men were concerned that
if they kept their promise to hold elections in Iraq within the
coming months, the country would fall into the hands of insufficiently
pro-American forces. That would defeat the purpose of the invasion,
and it would threaten President Bush's re-election chances. During
the course of the meeting, a revised plan was hatched: Elections
would be delayed for more than one year and in the meantime, Iraq's
first 'sovereign government' would be hand-picked by Washington.
The plan would allow Mr. Bush to claim progress on the campaign
trail, while keeping Iraq safely under U.S. control."
|The forthcoming elections
in Iraq will not mark a turning point for that country
The excuse used by Bremer to ignore the Iraqis' demands for election
was, prevalent insecurity and absence of voter rolls. Few in Iraq
or abroad were fooled by this logic. Iraq was safe enough to hold
elections and the Saddam-era food-for-oil lists could be used
as voter rolls. Now a year later, the country is more insecure
compared to what it was a year ago. And the Saddam-era food-for-oil
lists are going to be used as voter rolls -- because now Bush,
having secured four more years, needs 'democracy'. No more Provisional
Authorities or Governing Councils. It is because international
agreements governing the occupying powers -- Hague regulations
of 1907 and Geneva conventions of 1949 -- do not allow the 'Provisional
Authorities' or 'Governing Councils' to act as auctioneers of
Iraqi assets instead of the caretakers of these assets.
President Bush is least bothered to abide by the international
conventions in this case, because foreign investors are getting
nervous. And so, 'democracy' in Iraq is a democracy protected
by U.S. troops. A democracy that will need American companies
like Bechtel to run the water system, MCI to keep Iraqi phones
ringing and Halliburton to dig oil out of wells. (Halliburton's
Iraq contracts are now worth over $10 Billion, reports truthout.org).
The election and democracy are thus legitimacy blankets to cover
a dark scenario: physical occupation (150,000 foreign troops)
and economic control (Bechtel, MCI, Halliburton).
And election on January 30, 2005, of a 237-member National Assembly
will just be another step to prolong the puppet Allawi regime
for another year. The National Assembly will serve as Iraq's legislature
and will draft a new constitution. The constitution will be presented
to the Iraqi electorate in a referendum scheduled for the fall
of 2005. If everything goes in line with U.S. plans (so far, nothing
has) the new elected government will be in place by end-2005.
December 31 is the deadline.
The deadlines and targets set by Washington, however, are highly
unlikely to be met, even though Bush's 'Operation Ballot Storm'
draws sections of the Iraqi electorate to the polling booths on
January 30 -- sections of voters will surely want to express an
opinion in this way since it is the only governmental form available.
This will be especially true about Shia Muslims who hope to establish
Iraq's first-ever Shia government. The leading Shia cleric, Ali
al-Sistani, is urging Iraq's Shi majority to participate in the
elections. Tribal connections might pull more voters to polling
stations despite threats by resistance groups.
The groups trying to prevent elections through guns will make
a big mistake. A small boycott (as in Pakistan's 2002 presidential
referendum) will be a victory against the U.S. occupation, but
a forced boycott will not serve the purpose. To be effective,
a boycott has to be a mass, voluntary action, not something enforced
by a bunch of armed zealots. Anti-electoral violence will serve
the U.S. occupation.
But a 'successful' election will in no way signify the defeat
of the resistance. The Iraq elections, no matter how fair and
free, will remain a farce. American imperialism specialises in
framing such farcical elections, as in Vietnam and Latin America
-- the list is too long. Vietnam is a good guide for Iraq resistance,
at least in the case of these elections.
In Vietnam, the liberation forces pretty much ignored the elections.
America sold each election farce in Vietnam that went by without
giant attacks by the resistance, as a glorious act of defiance
by the 'people' and hailed it as a 'decisive turning point'. The
communist guerrillas exposed the farce in their propaganda and
continued fighting, thus underlining the fact that no 'decisive
turning point' had arrived.
The violent anti-electoral campaigns in Venezuela, in early 1960s,
however aided US propaganda and divisive efforts, and this is
what will happen in Iraq too. The elections will not be a 'decisive
turning point' for Iraq. She will reach a turning point, like
Vietnam, through Fallujahs. It will take one, two, three, many
Fallujahs - or rather, a combination of Fallujahs and street mobilisations
across the globe on March 20, 2005. The turning point will take
time, but it will happen. March 20 is not too far away.