Juan Cole / Media Channel – 2005-02-01 23:12:16
Remember, Bush Opposed Open Elections
Juan Cole / MediaChannel.org
I’m just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a “political earthquake” and “a historical first step” for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world.
All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn’t been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.
Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then, on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly “extremely offended” at these two demands and opposed Sistani.
Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005.
This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn’t hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn’t use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did!
So if it had been up to Bush, Iraq would have been a soft dictatorship under Chalabi, or would have had stage-managed elections with an electorate consisting of a handful of pro-American notables.
It was Sistani and the major Shiite parties that demanded free and open elections and a UNSC resolution. They did their job and got what they wanted. But the Americans have been unable to provide them the requisite security for truly aboveboard democratic elections.
With all the hoopla, it is easy to forget that this was an extremely troubling and flawed “election.” Iraq is an armed camp. There were troops and security checkpoints everywhere. Vehicle traffic was banned. The measures were successful in cutting down on car bombings that could have done massive damage. But even these Draconian steps did not prevent widespread attacks, which is not actually good news. There is every reason to think that when the vehicle traffic starts up again, so will the guerrilla insurgency.”?
Iraq now faces many key issues that could tear the country apart, from the issues of Kirkuk and Mosul to that of religious law. James Zogby on Wolf Blitzer wisely warned the US public against another “Mission Accomplished” moment. Things may gradually get better, but this flawed “election” isn’t a Mardi Gras for Americans and they’ll regret it if that is the way they treat it.
Juan Cole is the Iraq expert at the University of Michigan. More information is available at his website.
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Celebrations May Be Premature
“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 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.”
This quote — from a New York Times article titled, ‘US Encouraged by Vietnam Vote’ — appeared on September 4, 1967.
After this “heartening” vote, the war continued with mounting ferocity and increasing casualties for five more years until the US, South Vietnam and North Vietnam signed Paris Peace Accords on January 23, 1973.
In December 1969, two years after this “successful election,” the White House was forced to institute a military draft, tying mandatory military service to date of birth.
Gar Smith, co-founder, Environmentalists Against War. Berkeley, California.