David Enders / Mother Jones – 2005-12-16 09:45:09
ZARQA, Jordan (December 14 , 2005) — Ever since the United Nations leveled sanctions against Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqis have come to this Amman suburb in Jordan to find work or purchase goods from the city’s tax-free import zone.
Zarqa is the hometown of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the purported leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the extremist groups threatening death for anyone participating in the US-backed Iraqi political process. But this Tuesday, Zarqa was also one of dozens of places in 15 countries where Iraqis living outside the country could go to cast absentee ballots for the nationwide election that will take place December 15th.
If expatriate voting is any indicator, Iraq’s Sunnis are already making good on their promise to participate in this round of elections. In part, the decision is pragmatic: Sunnis had either boycotted or were too afraid to participate in the national elections last January, but this time, the 275-member National Assembly that will be elected will hold office for four years, and will be in a position to settle a number of still-unresolved constitutional issues.
Even in Fallujah, one of the most potent symbols of resistance to the occupation and the transitional government, local leaders have risked death to encourage their followers to vote.
Moayed Jassim Abed is a truck driver from Ramadi — the capital of Al-Anbar province and a site of frequent fighting between guerillas and the US military and its Iraqi proxy forces. Different guerilla groups have also clashed in the city, and on Tuesday, Mizhar Dulaimi, a Sunni candidate in the election, was assassinated there.
Abed said he boycotted the last election because he felt it was unfair to open polls in the dangerous Sunni areas. But on Tuesday he voted for Saleh Mutlaq, a secular Sunni whose National Dialogue Party will likely compete for the Sunni vote with that of Adnan Dulaimie, a religious Sunni candidate and a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars. “We want security and stability. Saddam Hussein is much better than the Americans. They have been there three years and they have done worse than Saddam has done,” Abed said.
Even George W. Bush has admitted resistance to the occupation is unlikely to abate as a result of the vote, and Iraqis voting in Zarqa voiced that opinion as well. One man, who identified himself only as “an exile of the new democracy” said he was also voting for the first time.
“What brought me here are the American boots and the sectarian divide that is occurring in Iraq — the democratic terrorism,” the man said. “This election is to make people forget about the occupation and what is happening in Iraq.”
Khalid Kareem, a truck driver from Hit—a city west of Ramadi which in recent weeks has seen fighting between guerillas and the US military and the new Iraqi army—complained about the ongoing violence and said he had been forced to come to Jordan to look for work. He said he distrusts the current government in Iraq, which is dominated by conservative Shiite parties, and that he also voted for Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Party.
“He represents Sunnis, and Sunnis are oppressed,” Kareem said. “[The current government] has accused Saddam of killing people, but they are doing much worse. This is why I am voting, so there will be people in the government who represent us. We want people who will set a timetable for the Americans to leave and who will call for the UN to be involved as well.”
Mutlaq spent part of the campaign in Jordan, claiming that the current government had plans to assassinate him ahead of the election. Asked whether he sees any possibility of cooperation between his party and the religious Shiite parties that are once again likely to dominate, he was not optimistic.
“I don’t see any real cooperation with them because they came for revenge,” Mutlaq said. “They didn’t come to build up the country. We cannot cooperate with such kind of people unless they change their mentality, and only God can change their mentality, because they have been brought up like this for a long time.”
One of the National Dialogue Council’s key planks is the reversal of de-Baathification — fifteen members of Mutlaq’s electoral list were purged by the Election Commission earlier this month because they had previously held too high a rank in the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein.
Mutlaq also won much respect for taking a hard line in negotiations with other Iraqi legislators when he was invited, along with 14 other Sunni representatives, to join the committee that drafted Iraq’s new constitution, which narrowly passed in a national referendum in October. At one point, Mutlaq and other Sunni representatives had boycotted the drafting process for a time after the murder of two other Sunni members of the committee, complaining that the government either wasn’t doing enough to protect Sunni representatives or else carrying out the assassinations itself. Recently, Mutlaq commented on the ongoing trial of Saddam Hussein by saying that if he were to take power after this round of elections, he would put members of the current government on trial as well.
Mustafa Al-Hiti, one of the politicians on Mutlaq’s electoral list, hasn’t been in Iraq since 2003, when he left his job as dean of Baghdad’s University’s College of Pharmacy after the second attempt on his life, which he blames on pro-government forces.
“They are the new Baathists,” he said of the current government.
Al-Hiti praised the system being used in this election, in which each of Iraq’s 18 governorates will elect a predetermined number of representatives based on their population, rather than the system used in the last election, which treated the entire country as a single district, and ensured that low Sunni voter turnout would result in marginal representation in the legislature. “The situation after the election must be better. Every governorate will have their own representatives — no one party will dominate.”
“The Cairo meeting was a start,” Al-Hiti said, referring to the reconciliation conference held in November under the auspices of the Arab League.
Other Iraqis in Jordan have no interest in the political process at all. Twenty-three-year-old Taif Naimi, a Sunni from the Baghdad neighborhood of Adamiyah, a stronghold of former regime support, says his father was kidnapped earlier this year by government security forces and that the family was forced to pay $100,000 to secure his release. Naimi fled to Amman soon after and says he plans to return only to marry his fiancée and bring her back to Jordan.
“After the disaster with my father, I can’t trust anyone in the Iraqi government,” said Naimi. “I come here to take a breath like someone in the water. I hate Iraq now.”
David Enders is the author of Baghdad Bulletin: Dispatches on the American Occupation. This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.
© 2005 The Foundation for National Progress
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