Thursday, December 15, 2005

We vote, then we throw you out

By Pepe Escobar

12/14/05 "Asia Times" -- -- First, a quick look at the environment
ahead of Thursday's elections in Iraq. Political assassinations,
party headquarters burned, abductions (all largely unreported by
Western corporate media). A former prime minister, Iyad Allawi -
widely known in Baghdad as "Saddam without a moustache" - saying on
the record that human rights in President George W Bush's Iraq are
worse than they were under Saddam.

Current Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's Da'wa Party accusing Allawi
of defending the occupiers. Allawi accusing Jaafari's government of
corruption. Former Pentagon asset Ahmad

Chalabi's campaign posters with the inscription, "We liberated Iraq."

A network of secret torture prisons and charnel houses. Fear and
loathing in militia hell. American military operations to "secure
peaceful voting". All traffic circulation prohibited by the occupiers
(to prevent car bombings). The borders with both Syria and Jordan, as
well as Baghdad's airport, all closed.

Satanic, free and fair
We all knew what some were going to say. Saddam Hussein - preparing
his next coup de theater in court - declared the elections "a farce".
Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, plus four other jihadi
groups, denounced them as "a satanic project", vowing to perpetuate
the jihad, fighting for "an Islamic state ruled by the book [the
Koran] and the traditions of Prophet Mohammed".

Other positions are more nuanced. On Monday, a leaflet was widely
distributed in the Azamiyah neighborhood in Baghdad stating that
Sunni Arabs might have a chance to reinforce their position through
the elections, but "the fighting will continue with the infidels and
their followers".

The Bush administration spin - faithfully reproduced by Western
corporate media quoting the usual ("US officials") suspects - follows
the same wishful script: a "large turnout" among the "disaffected
Sunni Arab minority" that "could" produce a government "capable of
winning the trust of the Sunnis", "defusing the insurgency" and thus
leading the US "and other foreign troops" to start going home by

The favorite Anglo-American election candidate supposedly capable of
pulling it all off is once again Allawi - a truculent secular Shi'ite
who was once a Ba'athist (he has kept the good connections) before he
became anti-Saddam and a US intelligence asset. The White House may
forget it, but Iraqis don't; Allawi gave the go-ahead for the
American leveling of Fallujah and the American bombing of holy Najaf
in 2004.

A few days ago he was bombarded with shoes and chased away from the
Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. British Prime Minister Tony Blair supports
him and considers him "the best hope" for Iraq. Pentagon analysts
agree, as one of them told The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh that "he
would allow us to keep Special Forces operations inside Iraq ...
mission accomplished. A coup for Bush."

But no amount of feel good stories disguise the fact that the
American project is doomed to fail because the premise itself is
flawed - a semblance of democracy as the offspring of an illegal
invasion and foreign occupation. Moreover, this White House-promoted
and/or imposed "fast food democracy" has been sectarian-based from
the start. It is inexorably leading to the Lebanonization of Iraq, a
phenomenon parallel to the Iraqification of the occupation.

Iraqi voters have their own reasons to question whether these
elections are free and fair. For starters, most are not interested;
what really glues them to TV sets is Saddam on trial (the majority of
Iraqis, Shi'ites and Kurds, has already condemned him to death).
There's poor security for the voters; they can only hope they won't
be blown to smithereens when they take the mandatory walk to the
polling station to choose between 231 political parties, coalitions
and individual candidates.

And there's little security for the almost 7,000 candidates either.
The bulk of the campaigning has been on TV; this means only a few
flush parties stood a chance. Live campaigning led in many cases to
abduction and even assassination. Moreover, most voters are not
exactly sure of what they're doing. Recent polls have revealed that
at least half of the Iraqi population is still not convinced of the
merits of Western-style democracy, at least the White House-promoted

Half believe that the occupiers should have never set foot in
Mesopotamia. Sixty percent think that they turned the country into an
even bigger disaster than it was after the Iran-Iraq war of the
1980s, the first Gulf war in 1991 and 12 years of United Nations
sanctions. And two thirds of the population wants the occupiers out.
Half the people polled by the BBC said Iraq needed a strong leader
(a "Saddam without a moustache"?) And only 28% said democracy was a

The full Shi'ite agenda
It takes just a little political acumen to tell which way the
(desert) wind blows. By the end of November, Shi'ite firebrand cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr had made his move, coming out with all his political
guns blazing to promote a "pact of honor", which he called Iraqi
parties to subscribe to.

Last Thursday, in the Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya, the 14-point
pact was signed by an impressive array of political heavyweights.
Among them: the two main Shi'ite parties, the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Da'wa; the Sadrists; the Iraqi
Concord Front (which is a coalition of the three major Sunni Arab
parties); Ahmad Chalabi (in person); members of the de-
Ba'aathification committee; a number of tribal chiefs; unions; social
associations; and government employees.

Among the crucial points of the pact are: withdrawal of the occupiers
and setting of an objective timetable for their withdrawal from Iraq;
elimination of all the consequences of their presence, including any
bases for them in the country, while working seriously for the
building of [Iraqi] security institutions and military forces within
a defined schedule; no more immunity for the occupation troops; no
relations whatsoever with Israel; a condemnation of terrorism ("We
condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing, abducting and
expulsion aimed at innocent citizens for sectarian reasons."); a
condemnation of the Ba'ath Party as "a terrorist organization" and an
urge "to speed up the trial of overthrown president Saddam Hussein";
and a decision to "postpone the implementation of the disputed
principle of federalism".

This, in a nutshell, is the Shi'ite agenda for the new Iraq,
potentially embracing 62% of the population of roughly 25 million to
26 million. The pact may have been a Sadrist move, but there's no
reason to believe these decisions will not be implemented as the
United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which is dominated by the SCIRI, Da'wa
and the Sadrists, is set to become the majority in the new, 275-
member Iraqi National Assembly. The whole numbers issue in the
elections is by which percentage the UIA will be a majority compared
to the Kurdistan coalition and the Iraqi Concord Front.

The main players
The UIA, list number 555, created with the blessing of Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, received almost 50% of the votes in the
January elections. Now the 18-party UIA is weaker because some
parties defected. Sistani stated his position last Sunday. In
January, he practically ordered all Shi'ites to vote for the UIA.
Now, he is more nuanced. "These elections are just as important as
the preceding ones, and citizens - both male and female - must
participate in them on a wide scale in order to guarantee a big and
powerful presence for those who will safeguard their verities and
work energetically for their higher interests in the next

Although not explicitly endorsing the UIA, he did advise all Shi'ites
to not split and not waste their vote; this would mean something
like "vote for the UIA, not for Allawi". Politically, the UIA has
been heavily criticized by Iraqis themselves for being utterly
impotent - and incompetent - while dealing with corruption and
fighting against both the Sunni Arab resistance and the jihadi

The eight-party Kurdistan coalition list, number 730, remains
dominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, headed by the current
Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdish Democratic Party,
headed by Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan. They have
been allies to the UIA in government for the past 10 months, but the
infighting is abysmal. The only thing the Kurds actually care about
is Kirkuk and its oil wealth - and how they can prevent Sunni Arabs
and Turkmen from having a slice of the cake.

The 15-group Iraqi National List, number 731, secular and pan-
sectarian, is headed by Allawi. The list includes the Communist
Party, former foreign minister (pre-Saddam) Adnan al-Pachachi (a
Sunni Arab), a few tribal sheikhs and even some liberal Shi'ite

They say they will fight the Sunni Arab resistance (would that mean
leveling Ramadi now instead of Fallujah?), establish a strong central
government (SCIRI, Da'wa and the Sadrists would never let them get
away with it), revise the de-Ba'athification laws (so Allawi can get
his former pals back to government) and return more former officers
of the Iraqi Army disbanded by former proconsul L Paul Bremer to the
new security forces (once again, over the dead body of the SCIRI,
Da'wa and the Sadrists).

The Iraqi Concord Front, number 618, is an alliance of three mostly
Islamist Sunni Arab groups. All of them boycotted the January
elections. Their platform includes total American withdrawal, and of
course bringing back former Sunni Arab Iraqi Army officers. They also
want to change the constitution - again - eliminating the newfound
regional power and reinforcing the authority of Baghdad.

The 10-party Iraqi National Congress (INC) list, number 569, is
headed by former Pentagon asset, current deputy prime minister and
eternal revivalist, Chalabi. He split from the UIA to form his own
group. Chalabi obviously preaches fighting against the Sunni Arab
resistance and in impeccable populist fashion promised every Iraqi
family cash derived from Iraq's oil money plus a piece of land for
every family that did not yet own a home.

All's well in militia hell
When they are not occupied dodging bullets or trying to spend at
least one hour of the day with some water and electricity, Iraqis see
rot piling up everywhere. The Allawi-Chalabi (they are cousins) mini-
war gets dirtier by the day. The British government is according to
some unconfirmed reports pulling out all the stops to stall an
investigation into the theft of more than US$1.3 billion from the
Ministry of Defense. This favors - who else - Allawi, because the
money "disappeared" during his corruption-infested six months as
prime minister.

Then there's the rot in the Ministry of Interior. Bayan Jabr, the
minister, is from the SCIRI. He controls about 110,000 men armed to
their teeth. The SCIRI's militia, the Badr Organization, formerly the
Badr Brigade, rule the ministry and have infiltrated paramilitary
police commandos, which are in fact "legal" death squads specialized
in terrorizing Sunni Arabs. In parallel, Muqtadar's Mahdi Army
controls most of Baghdad's police. Many people tend to forget that
Baghdad is a predominantly Shi'ite city.

This country is no more
None of this points to national cohesion. "Iraq" as we know it - the
unified, heavily centralized state with arbitrary borders drawn on a
paper napkin by Britain after World War I - may be on its way to
extinction after these elections.

Partition is de facto in the four provinces of Kurdistan - roughly
between 15% and 20% of the total population, self-governed and with
their own army and police. The billion-dollar question is how the
SCIRI, Da'wa and the Sadrists will conform a Shi'iteistan composed of
nine Shi'ite provinces out of Iraq's 18. This would be the logical
outcome after the American-designed constitution approved in the
October 15 referendum. The SCIRI's leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim,
definitely wants a Shi'iteistan.

The US would be left with little more than the Green Zone - which is
not exactly an oil lake - and a lot of empty desert. Essentially,
Kurds and Shi'ites will be able to decide what to do with their oil
revenues. The Kurds, for instance, have already signed a contract
with a Norwegian oil company to drill for oil.

Election or no election, the ultimate blood-drenched quagmire will
remain fully operational. Al-Qaeda will keep suicide bombing to
death. Shi'ite death squads will keep executing Sunni Arabs. Shi'ite
and Kurd politicians will keep squabbling - while Kurdistan and
Shi'iteistan further ignore Baghdad. The Americans will keep
controlling nothing - not even the road from the airport to the Green
Zone. "Reconstruction" will remain non-existent - until the probably
not-too-distant day when the Shi'ite signatories of the "pact of
honor" - the probable election winners - will muster the will to tell
the occupiers "you're out - and don't forget to pack your military
bases as well".

Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online

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