Friday, January 28, 2005

Hoping for a "Proper Election" for a "Proper Civil War"

Elections in Iraq will be held on January 30, 2005. That the elections are nothing but yet another faith-based initiative of the George W. Bush Administration should be obvious to all thinking persons.

The Bush Team's bad faith is a faith in the chance of having "a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there" (Thomas L. Friedman, "Let Iraq Have the Right Kind of Civil War," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, January 7, 2005). Why does Washington need "a proper election" for "a proper civil war"? Because "[w]e don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the United States and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the United States. America cannot win that war" (Friedman, January 7, 2005). If all goes well for Washington, it can present itself as the selfless protector of a democratically elected Iraqi government, heroically defending it from evil Ba'athist and Islamist rebels, or so the thinking goes.

The problem for Washington is that few Iraqis believe that the elections can be democratic. Khalid Jarrar, a young Iraqi man who lives in Baghdad, speaks for many:
Are you into theatre?

Cause you are all about to witness one of the biggest and most expensive ones in the history: The Elections in Iraq.

If you're asking me (and I am sure you are, since you took the effort of remembering my URL and actually came here, again!), I think that the elections are nothing but an American game to give some kind of legitimacy to their presence in Iraq, by creating a government that supposedly is a legal Iraqi government, that is authorized "legally" to ask them to stay in Iraq, and will justify then, the much harsher attacks against anyone that resists their presence, the excuse will then be that: The elected Iraqi government asked us to do so and so.

Well, the same thing is happening now, but since the Americans are getting more and more embarrassed everyday for the shameful results of their occupation, what's better than giving Iraqis the "democracy" and "freedom "to the point that they themselves can ask the Americans to stay?

Very funny ha? Haha? Well I don’t think so. (Tell Me a Secret, January 27, 2005)
In the face of all skeptics, however, Gilbert Achcar claims that "it has been clear until now that the most fruitful strategy in opposing the occupation is the one led by Sistani, and that attempts at derailing the elections and de-legitimizing them in advance can only play into the hands of the US occupation" ("On the Forthcoming Election in Iraq," ZNet, January 3, 2005). Achcar's claim is especially odd, given that one of the potential post-election outcomes, in his own opinion, is a civil war on both ethnic and sectarian lines:
One scenario, which has been greatly facilitated by the behavior of the occupying forces, is the one that many neocons came to favor after the collapse of their illusions about securing control of Iraq "democratically": a de facto, if not de jure, carving up of the country along sectarian lines (Israel's favored scenario from the beginning).

In order to retain control of the land, Washington could very well resort to the well-tried imperial recipe of divide and rule, taking the risk of setting Iraq on the devastating fire of a civil war -- both sectarian (Shia v. Sunni) and ethnic (Arab v. Kurd). (January 3, 2005 )
Achcar asserts that "[a] central item in the program of the coalition [that is likely to receive most votes, the "Unified Iraqi Coalition"] . . . is to negotiate with the occupation authorities a date for the withdrawal of their troops from the country" (January 3, 2005), but it is not in the interest of the Shiite clerics and notables leading the coalition to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops unless and until Washington has bestowed upon them well-armed and well-trained Iraqi soldiers who can protect them from actual and potential guerrillas. Besides, if they were to call for the withdrawal, they would have to fear for their lives, for that would make them enemies of Washington. Even before the elections, they have already retreated from the allegedly "central item":
Politicians from the two leading tickets in Sunday's Iraqi elections backed away Tuesday from earlier campaign promises to set a deadline for the withdrawal of American forces.

The decision not to set a deadline underscores concerns that Iraqi troops are nowhere near ready to police their violence-wracked country and removes one possible point of friction between the new government and the Bush administration.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Both interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who heads a secular slate, and his chief rival, the Shiite Muslim-based United Iraqi Alliance, are calling for a gradual transfer of responsibilities from U.S. troops to Iraqis. The switch coincides with a U.S. military report that some 120,000 American troops would remain in Iraq through 2006.

"I will not set final dates (for troop withdrawal) because dates now would be both reckless and dangerous," Allawi told journalists at the heavily protected Baghdad Convention Center.

The change is especially significant for the United Iraqi Alliance, favored by many to dominate the balloting. Until this week, its campaign materials listed its No. 2 promise as "setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq."

But the alliance rewrote its campaign materials this week, revising its platform. The second item now reads: "The Iraq we want is capable of protecting its borders and security without depending on foreign forces."

The alliance, led by a prominent Shiite cleric and tacitly endorsed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest-ranking cleric, is expected to garner millions of votes.

With only five days remaining before Iraqi voters choose a national assembly, the decision by leading candidates to forsake any plan to press the United States troops to leave means the next government will face the same conundrum that plagues current leaders: Iraqi troops can't fight a sophisticated insurgency without the help of U.S. forces, but the United States' presence only fuels the insurgency.

Iraqi transitional laws authorize U.S. forces to remain in Iraq until full democratic elections at the end of this year. Though a clause states that an earlier withdrawal could occur at the request of the Iraqi government, that scenario is improbable, given the widespread instability of the country.

Sheik Homam Hamoodi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Iran-backed driving force of the United Iraqi Alliance, said the change came with the realization that Iraqi troops weren't ready to take charge -- and probably wouldn't be for years to come.

"The item on the first platform called for a set time for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, without taking into consideration the urgent circumstances," Hamoodi said. "The addition calls for an environment when Iraqis will be able to protect themselves and, when we reach that point, there will be no reason for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq."

Amer Hassan Fayadh, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said the changes probably came about as a result of American pressure on candidates and increasingly sophisticated insurgent attacks that revealed how unprepared Iraqi security forces are to respond.

"The promise of putting U.S. troops on a timetable is not out of sincerity, it's only for campaigning. These major lists know their existence is linked to the presence of the troops," Fayadh said. "Whenever the security situation gets worse, the issue of troops departing becomes less of a priority in their platforms." (Hannah Allam/Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, "Top Iraqi Candidates Won't Press for Withdrawal of U.S. Troops," January 25, 2005)
In short, nothing fundamental will change after the elections, just as nothing fundamental changed after the "handover" of "sovereignty" on June 30, 2004. Despite the Bush Team's faith, there won't be "a proper civil war" either -- just an old-fashioned anti-colonial struggle against Washington.

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