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No to US occupation

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By Farooq Sulehria

As the dust settles on the Iraq election held under US jackboots, an apt headline would have been: ‘USA: biggest loser in Iraq election’. Another equally apt headline was suggested by Swedish newspaper Arbetaren: ‘Iran wins Iraq election’. Thus laments Washington Post staff writer Robin Wright: ‘ ... in one of the greatest ironies of the US intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base — and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing that the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy — $300 billion and counting, US and regional analysts say’. (Feb 14)

Not that the Bush Administration was expecting better results. The result was evident from the beginning. It was therefore Paul Bremer who had travelled to USA and met George Bush on November 11, 2003. Both agreed to postpone the election in view of the forthcoming US presidential election. But Sistani mobilised Shia followers with a demand for election. Hundreds of thousands took to Baghdad streets while another 30,000 marched in Basra, chanting: ‘Yes, yes to election. No, no to selection’. Although postponed until Bush had secured his second term, elections could not be avoided.

When election was imposed on the Bush administration, it decided to use it in its favour. The first benefit the US occupation could derive was legitimacy for its economic plunder. Since, international agreements governing the occupying powers — Hague regulations of 1907 and Geneva conventions of 1949 — forbid the ‘Provisional Authorities’ or ‘Governing Councils’ to act as auctioneers of Iraqi assets instead of the caretakers of these assets, it was therefore better to manoeuvre an elected government that could lend ‘legal stamp’ to plunder. True, Bush and Co. don’t care a hoot about international accords but foreign investors are a bit shy to invest in Iraq in view of naked plunder.

An added advantage was planned. Demonstration elections could help satisfy the domestic opinion. Thus a ‘high turn out’ hype was created by the US media to drive home one big lie: Iraqis have staked their lives on January 30 to vindicate US occupation.

Ironically, a high turn out in the case of Soviet Union-sponsored elections in Poland (1947) tantamount, according to USA and its media, to election rigging owing to the presence of 17, 000 Soviet troops. Also, a high turn out for Sandanistas in Nicaragua (1984) was neither approved by US administration nor by US media. But a ‘high turn out’ in Vietnam, Dominican Republic, El Salvador or Iraq vindicates US occupation.

It in fact is quiet the contrary. The Iraqis, like the Vietnamese and El Salvadorians, have staked their lives to vote in the hope of ending occupation through ballot: a hope sold mainly by Shia leadership. The United Iraq Council consisting of, among others, two main Shia parties Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa had in its election manifesto promised a pull out by US troops. Not just United Iraq Council, that to its credit also had Sunnis and Kurds on its list, but all the Arab lists had promised in their election manifestos to end US occupation. The desire to end US occupation is so strong that even the horse US was staking on in the election race: Iyad Allawi, had to promise an end to US occupation. He otherwise could not go to the polls and hope to get votes.

And despite all of US funding, Negroponte backing, media monopoly and position of advantage as ‘prime minister’, Iyad Allawi fared so miserable that even US media is criticising his performance. His bad electoral performance is yet another indicator for the ‘high turn out’ popularity of the US occupation.

This ‘popularity’ will be further put to test when an elected government assumes office. It will lead to an inevitable dispute between the US occupation and the elected government headed by a Shia leader. Time is already warning: ‘A democratic Iraq may raise new challenges for the US.’ (Feb 17).

A likely new government with Kurdish leader Talabani as president will annoy US old buddy: Turkey. Though Turkey will accept for the time being a Kurdish president as a lesser evil. An autonomous Kurd state would have been simply unacceptable to Turkey. As long as Kurds stay in Iraq’s fold, Turkey is ready to tolerate them. But again Talabani is reputed to have Iranian connection.

Iran as a matter of fact has benefited from Bush administration’s position in the whole region. First, the Bush administration removed an anti-Shia Taliban regime in Kabul. Many among the warlords put in charge of Afghanistan have close ties to Tehran. Again, the ‘costly Iraq policy’ worth ‘$300 billion and counting’, removed a regime hostile to Tehran and replaced it with a pro-Iran government thus helping build what many call a Shia axis stretching from Iran to south of Lebanon where Hizbollah ‘rules’. Syria, ruled by Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam and Baghdad complete this axis.

Meantime, the violence continues in Iraq. A scenario that reminds one of Vietnam where a high turn out election (83 per cent) in 1967 led to Tet offensive in two years time. But tragically to a high death toll too. The body count at the end of the war was 56, 000, of course for USA. Since ‘we do not do body counts’ (General Tommy Frank) when it comes to the other side, it therefore is useless to type a complicated figure, with too many zeros, to count Vietnamese casualties.

At the time of writing these lines, Bush’s ‘costly Iraq policy’ worth ‘$300 billion’ has also cost 1470 US lives. Britain has offered 86. The ‘collateral damage’ (Iraqis) is 1,00,000.

It will be wise for the Bush administration to head for an exit. At least he will not be accused of hypocrisy if he pulls out his troops before urging Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon.

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