A day of reckoning for Iraq... and the US

Whatever happens on January 30, 2005 in Iraq , the people there will have their say, will have their vote… whether by turning in their ballots at the polling places, or by staying home.

Although intended as a full-fledged national and provincial multi-party election, when the day is over, the results will boil down to a simple referendum: whether Iraq remains a geopolitical indivisible nation, or whether the day marks the beginning of the country’s balkanization… its fragmentation and a possible civil war.

If the State Department expects Iraqis to freely elect a transitional assembly that will help write a constitution and choose a government, as expressed recently by its spokesman Richard Boucher, the folks at Truman block-square must be on some kind of “happy pill.” Perhaps the identical medication availed to their Pentagon brethren prior to the invasion of Iraq .

If there is such a thing as an inappropriate time to hold elections, this has to be it. How can democratic, meaningful elections be held in a vast nation of twenty-five million people where security is for the most part provided by an occupier under constant attack; an occupier who must remain inside fortified military compounds most of the time? How can elections serve the advancement of democracy when-

  • There is a total lack of security in four provinces that combine for almost half of the country’s population?
  • There has not been a true effort to promote successful candidates, particularly those with much-needed political and bargaining skills?
  • Voter education activities have been minimal or nonexistent, especially for a citizenry without background in democratic institutions?
  • An electoral campaign has been practically invisible to most Iraqis? …And political meetings; exposure and dissemination of electronic and printed media; use of public facilities; and general political dialogue have attained conspicuity by their absence.
  • Variegated ethnic, social, religious, and historical power perspectives are either disregarded or not given their proper significance?
  • Elections are likely to be manipulated by those in the provisional government; perhaps even designed to exclude those who might be considered incompatible with American strategies or goals?
  • Validity of elections can be challenged a priori because of the presence of foreign military forces during the election… without a formal international commitment to leave the country shortly thereafter?
  • It has become obvious that both the US and Iran are trying to influence the outcome?

Come January 30 the world can be sure of one thing: timely, free and fair elections are a contradiction in terms to the reality that is occupied Iraq today. People need to feel safe, then have a voice, before they can vote… or democracy becomes just “political pretend,” a tool for those with designs that extend beyond governance by the people.

One thing for sure, this election will not be so much about political parties: KDP, PUK, SCIRI, Islamic al-Dawa, INC and… over 100 more! And it will not be about democracy, American style. It will be about Iraqis and their aspirations… and the future of the superpower now occupying their land.

Post-election… where will the three peoples in Iraq stand? Will they see any benefit in remaining a nation, or will they sectarian or ethnically disband?

The Kurds have had over a decade to get their political act together, courtesy of the political and military aftermath following Gulf War I, which allowed US/UK to enforce a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq , giving life, by chance or design, to the Kurds’ dream of an autonomous Kurdistan . It’s now a question of what petroleum or other assets they are to receive for their region… call it state or nation.

As for the other twenty million Iraqis… can a population comprised of three Shiites for every Sunni find a way to settle its differences, particularly when the Sunni minority has held the reins of government for so long?

But perhaps the question that bothers many of us most is… if only a small turnout is expected, perhaps no greater than 50% nationwide- only 10% among Sunnis, and voters are expected to cast their ballots according to ethnic and religious lines… isn’t Bush insisting on an election that is both untimely and wrong? And by forcing such election now, isn’t he lighting the match to Iraq ’s powder keg?

What is so sacrosanct about holding elections on January 30? Is it Bush’s inviolable word at stake here? Or are we really looking at the beginning of the end… another forced troop pullout two years after an invasion seen by much of the world as a nation-rape?