Iraqi elections

Whose Election?

"I pray for the safety of Iraq from North to South and East and West. Today for the first time I have felt like a complete human being." An Iraqi woman waiting to vote, speaking, thru her tears, to Hugh Sykes of the BBC.

The Iraqi people voted en-mass. They voted with enthusiasm. And they voted despite, almost because of the danger from the resistance. The Iraqi people had no say about the invasion (aka the liberation). One of the key problems of any intervention is that if a people have not themselves taken freedom they have not gained the confidence needed to build freedom. Larry Diamond is not alone in describing the humiliation that the Iraqis felt because they themselves had proved unable to overthrow Saddam. This time tho, on election day, it was the Iraqi people acting for themselves.

That's why Bush should be careful about claiming credit for these elections. Above all, because it wasn't part of the plan. The Bremer regime did all it could avoid direct elections. Only when faced with the mass demonstrations called by Sistani did Bremer cave in and concede that direct elections should be held before the end of January 2005. As it turned out they took it right to the line delaying elections to latest possible moment without violating their promise. Give them credit. When faced with no alternative, the Americans did do the right thing. They stood back and let the Iraqis do it themselves. There was a lot of criticism before the poll of the decision to let the Iraqis handle the security. Well it turns out that the Iraqi police were more than up to the job. Check out the this account of Abdelamir Najem Kazem who, when he realized that the man he was searching was a suicide bomber, threw the bomber to the ground and himself on top so taking the blast, saving the lives of others at the cost of his own. I'm sure Iraqis wish they lived in a country that didn't need heroes but it does - but it does have them.

Now for the Bad News

The resistance may not have disrupted polling day but the election as a whole did not go unscathed. Eight election officials were shot. That was a brutal crime, but as with terrorism anywhere, those deaths were merely the means. The real aim was the fear among the other officials. Hence the Electoral Commission had a significant manpower shortage. The province of Nineveh was very badly hit. Because of intimidation it was very hard to recruit local election officials. So much so, that they were only able to set up a third of the polling stations planned and these were in the main manned by officials sent up from the south. (Feb 4 Financial Times) The number of election candidates and campaigners actually assassinated was also small. The effect was not and in Baghdad few openly campaigned. Worst of all many candidates did not even reveal their names. Democracy is about participation. Voting is the foundation because that is the moment the people as a whole participate. However it is the day to day participation of the active minority that gives democracy life. In large areas of Iraq the resistance have held that in check.

There are signs that Sunnis did vote in large numbers in Basra. In the Sunni majority areas it was, of course, a different story. To the extent that that was due to resistance intimidation that is a real success for them. What's there to say but to echo hopes that the winners in these elections put their words about reaching out to the Sunnis into action.

Resisting What?

This election has made clear that what the resistance are resisting is democracy itself. Zarqawi condemned the "evil principle of democracy" calling it the "rule of man" in violation of the "rule of God". Supporters of the resistance usually claim that Zarqawi is insignificant and that the rest of the resistance are simply anti-American nationalists. The size of the resistance effort was exceptional with 260 attacks compared with a daily average of 60-70. (Feb 1st 2005 Financial Times) It doesn't really matter whether Zarqawi's faction is the dominant one or just one among many for it is clear that the bulk of the resistance share his views on democracy. That's a pretty good sign that the victory of the resistance is death to any hopes for Iraqi democracy or indeed, judging from the way civilians were targeted, the end for any human rights whatsoever.

The elections show that democracy not a foreign import, it has become something authentically Iraqi. But lets not overlook how it also shows the strength of the threats it still faces.

"The elections of the twenty first century took all the limelight and focused it on the Iraqi heroes. Iraqis can now be the proudest among all nations. They have broken their chains."
Khaled in Baghdad

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