Edwin Black / San Francisco Chronicle – 2004-12-07 23:16:05
(December 5, 2004) — President Bush insists that the elections must go on as scheduled on Jan. 30, and the administration announced last week that US troop strength in Iraq will be increased to 150,000 in an attempt to safeguard the election process.
But 15 Sunni political parties and two leading Kurdish parties have banded together to ask Iraq’s interim government to postpone voting. They contend the continuing violence and insurgency imperil a vote or make it impossible.
That point was driven home just days ago when a grenade was tossed into a school with a note warning school administrators not to allow their buildings to be used as polling places.
Candidates have been threatened with death, voters have been told to stay in their homes on election day. The Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq’s highest Sunni religious authority, has demanded that all Sunnis boycott the electoral process.
But the Shiites are adamant that elections proceed as planned. Their supreme religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has decreed that voting is not merely an act of citizenship but the highest religious obligation.
“All citizens, male and female, who are eligible to vote, ” said Sistani, “must make sure that their names are properly registered on the electoral register.”
Shiite mosques are bedecked with voting banners, especially in holy cities such as Najaf and Kufa. Sistani rebuffed the recent Sunni-Kurd request for a delay, saying the question was “not even up for discussion.”
Election Is Dividing Sunni and Shia Communities
Arab Sunnis and Kurds, who together make up 40 percent of the population, are on an electoral collision course with the majority Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of the population. The dynamics of this looming election showdown embody the same ethnic torrents that have plagued Iraq for centuries.
Minority Sunnis and majority Shias have massacred and oppressed each other in Iraq since the 7th century, taking time off to do the same for the country’s Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Kurds and other minorities. In the last half of the 20th century, the upper hand was seized by Sunni Ba’athist strongmen. Saddam Hussein was the most recent.
The concept of one-man one-vote, in which election results will almost certainly parallel the size of the various religious groups, guarantees that the Shiite majority will regain control of the nation, settling old scores, disenfranchising everyone else and creating the conditions for another civil war.
Elections Are Seen as a Tool of Occupation
More than that, free elections — anathema in most of the Middle East — are viewed by the joint domestic and pan-Arab insurgency as just another device of foreign occupation.
Hence, if election plans proceed, they will become the latest lightning rod for insurgency and terrorism, replacing reconstruction efforts, the oil infrastructure and police stations as the target du jour.
The assumption or seizure of central authority in Iraq has never included a truly representative government accepted by the warring tribal factions.
As a consequence, even if the election takes place, even if the Shiites deliver a statistical majority for the turnout, the Sunnis and insurgents will reject them as illegitimate, plunging the populace into violence.
Indeed, the Islamic Army, among the most organized of the several insurgent groups, has announced that no election can take place in Iraq as long as infidel forces continue to occupy Iraq. Its leaders promise to target all Iraqis or foreigners who participate in the election or recognize the results.
Another volatile possibility is that majority Shiite rule will propel the nation not toward Western-style democracy but toward Iranian-style theocracy. Shiite Iran and the dominant Shiite holy cities such as Najaf have been joined at the hip and heart for centuries.
Citizens from both countries freely pass across the border and in many ways function co-jointly in all matters religious, spiritual and social.
Should a Shiite-controlled Iraq legislate itself into an Iranian-style theocracy or even consider a pan-Islamic confederacy, the ramifications are towering. Such binational unions in the Islamic Middle East have been common since World War II.
In 1958, Iraq itself united with Jordan in the short-lived Arab Union, and Egypt and Syria created the ill-fated United Arab Republic.
Iraq Has Already Known ‘Democracy’: Is Was Imposed by the British After WWI
The people of Iraq have never wanted Western-style democracy or elections.
They know their history, too. In 1920, the nations of the Middle East were created where no nations had previously existed by Western oil imperialism and the League of Nations solely to validate under international law the post- World War I joint oil monopolies France and England had created.
Pro-western monarchs and other rulers were installed to sign on the dotted line, legitimizing cheap Western oil monopolies.
At the same time, the Western capitals spurned the Arab national movement.
When the Arabs hear the term “democracy,” they hear a code word for “We want a stable environment for oil.”
After years of trying to install democracy in the 1930s and 1940s, Maj. John Glubb, the British officer who organized the Arab Legion, complained bitterly in a letter to Whitehall: We “imagined that we had bestowed on the Iraqis all these blessings of democracy. …Nothing could be more undemocratic than the result. A handful of politicians obtained possession of the machinery of government, and all the elections were rigged … In this process they all became very rich.”
In the post-World War II decades, the West tried to hang onto its oil lifeline in the Middle East by using the best diplomats, corporate surrogates and militaries. That only fueled the cycle of insurrection and now world terrorism from a people who resent our presence and exploitation of their resources and who have always understood better than anyone exactly why we are there. The Arabs have come to believe that all talk of democratic values is just a shibboleth of the infidel.
Iraq, the so-called cradle of civilization, has a 7,000-year head start on the United States and Britain. If Iraqis wanted a pluralistic democracy, they could have created one without a permission slip from Washington or London. Elections do not make democracies. Democracies make elections.
Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is adapted from his new book, Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq’s 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Wiley).
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