By Farooq Sulehria
Religion infuses US President George W. Bush's life. He starts his
day on knees and reads the Bible every day, though what he needs
are history lessons. The Vietnam War, that he avoided participating
in, would be a good beginning in this regard. A New York Times report,
published on September 4, 1967, may serve as a proposed first history
'US Encouraged by Vietnam Vote: Officials Cite 83 per cent Turnout
Despite Vietcong Terror,' screams the headline. It reads: 'United
States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size
of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a
Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to
reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered
voters cast their ballots yesterday.'
Alas the avid Bible reader has no penchant for history. Therefore
he described the election as a 'resounding success' making it
seem as if democracy was the ultimate ambition behind the US invasion
In fact democracy has never been more than a subsidiary pretext
for the Bush administration in its drive to colonise the strategic
area stretching from the Gulf to Central Asia. Despotic satraps
rule most of this area. From Washington's oldest ally, the most
un-democratic Saudi Kingdom, to newer allies: Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan
or Uzbekistan. The great champions of democracy like Mubarak of
Egypt and Musharraf of Pakistan also mirror the US love for democracy
in the region.
As far as the Iraq election is concerned, Arab writer and intellectual
Gilbert Achcar delineates the picture pretty well: "The hypocrisy
of the Bush administration is limitless: when George W. Bush and
his buddies boast about the election in Iraq as an achievement
of the civilising mission that they supposedly took upon themselves
in bringing democracy to backward Muslims, they sound like a boss
boasting about having raised the wages of the workers in his factory
as an illustration of his eagerness to improve their living standard,
when, in reality, the raise was imposed on him by the workers
going on strike".
Even ridiculous was 'Tory' Blair crying hoarse: "The force
of freedom was felt throughout Iraq". True! With tanks on
the Baghdad roads, bridges closed, borders sealed three days prior
to the polling day, armed groups threatening to 'wash the streets
with blood', Iraqis indeed felt the 'force of freedom'. So strong
was this force that election observers did not dare step inside
Iraqi borders. They preferred to 'monitor' the polling from their
safe hotel suites in the Jordanian capital. Worse still, the electoral
candidates did not dare expose their identities or openly campaign.
According to pro-Allawi Al-Sabah newspaper, Iraqis recognised
only 7 per cent of the contestants. The polling booths were kept
secret until a day before the polling, nor were Baath Party functionaries
allowed to participate.
"The election fell so completely short of accepted electoral
standards", noted a Guardian contributor, "that had
it been held in, say Zimbabwe or Syria, Britain and USA would
have been the first to denounce it" (Jan 31).
But corporate media continues with its barrage of propaganda.
Terming 50 killings (in which all but two were Americans), on
election day as 'less than expected', it thus justified the 'high
turnout' as proof of the success of Bush's project to 'democratise'
the Muslim world. 'Experts' who perhaps never voted themselves
all their lives, were unleashed on TV screens to drive home the
importance of a turnout that initially was as high as 90 per cent
according to Fox News, brought down to 72 per cent by International
Electoral Commission's Farid Ayar. In ether case, it was exaggerated.
The 'final' score is over 50 per cent. The pro-Israel, Jewish
website Debka was still not convinced and declared that the turn
out was 40-45 per cent.
Interestingly, expatriate Iraqi voters who provided the opportunity
to vote by the International Office of Migration in 14 different
countries, did not vote despite their facing no security threat
-- only 280, 303 out of an estimated one million eligible voters
bothered to register themselves -- while eight million inside
Iraq thronged the polling stations, staking their lives. How come?
It was perhaps, as free-lancer Dahr Jamail points out, 'some voted
just for food' as 'voting in Baghdad was linked with receipt of
food rations'. Or perhaps it was Ayatollah Sistani's fatwa declaring
vote-casting a religious duty, with not voting tantamount to risking
hell. The majority of expatriates risked hell, but the fatwa did
not promise heaven in case of fulfilling the duty. Still the Shia
majority risked their lives rather than risking hell. Small digression:
according to Osama's fatwa, casting a vote would be risking hell.
Sunni voters paid no heed to Sistani's fatwa, and there was an
almost total boycott in their areas. The Sunni turnout is not
mentioned. But a debate over the turnout figures is meaningless
anyway; even if there were a high turnout, it would in no way
be an endorsement of the US occupation.
On the contrary, according to the initial results at the time
of writing (over two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted),
the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance was sweeping ahead of
its nearest rival Iyad Allawi by three votes to one.
The manifesto of the winning United Iraqi Alliance promises to
end occupation, while Allawi represents the Bush administration.
Most votes thus went to an 'anti-occupation alliance' -- in the
eyes of the Shia masses at least - a fact that the Occupation
authority in Baghdad will not acknowledge. Just as the Occupation
authorities in Saigon refused to accept the outcome of the 1967
polls in Vietnam. Washington hailed the election of President
Nguyen Van Thieu and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky as a 'major
step forward'. The step forward was consigned to the dustbin of
history in less than a decade. The high turnout in Iraq's election
is just a new turn for the US to find its Nguyens. This in no
way is a decisive turn. A decisive turn perhaps will be when Iraq
succeeds finding its Ho Chi Minh.
P.S: The holding of Iraq election on January 30 was an interesting
coincidence. It was on the night of January 30 that the Tet offensive
was launched. Another proposed history lesson for the Bible reader.