Monday, January 31, 2005
. . . is to be had from our eminent colleagues Juan Cole of Informed Comment --
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.-- and Roger Gathman of Limited, Inc. --
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 . . . .
The Iraqi election commission backed off its initial estimate of 72% turnout rather quickly. It then suggested that 8 million voted, or 60%. I don't think they really know, and would be careful of using these figures until they can be confirmed as the vote is counted. I saw them on Arab satellite tv estimating the turnout in Irbil in the Kurdish north at 60 percent. The turnout in Irbil should have been very high, since it is Kurdish and security is good. If that figure is true and holds, it would be an argument against the overall voting rate being 60 percent . . . .
Rory Carroll of the Guardian reports from Najaf that rubble is everywhere and some think Allawi will survive as Prime Minister. He quotes a Western diplomat: ' "Sistani has played it brilliantly . . . By reining in his radicals and going for elections, power is falling into the Shia lap"' . . . .
Sunni Arab turnout in the elections was light. The Sunnis in Samarra, a city of 200,000, only cast 1400 ballots. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat also reported that Tikrit's polling stations were deserted.
In eastern Mosul, where Turkmen and Kurds predominate, there was some turnout, but in the Sunni Arab western part of the city, firefights raged. The Arabs of Kirkuk appear largely to have boycotted the vote, whereas the Kurds came out enthusiastically.
But political pundits have a tendency to take the mechanical output of politics – who is in and who is out – as the whole of politics. It isn’t. Politics is also a cultural performance, an allegory of multiple desires. As a cultural act, the voting, and even the boycott of the voting, shows that the Iraqis can take their lives into their own hands. It shows the majority will stand up to armed threat. And it shows that the minority, the Sunnis, are well aware of the crimes that are being committed against them by the sinister Americans. So the question is:-- and Patrick of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge Foundation, whose exhaustive roundup of international reportage begins with this:
Is this a situation in which 150,000 American troops, then, are needed? And if so, what are they needed to do?
Well, obviously, the need to keep them there is generated solely in D.C. imperialist megalomania and the interests of those Iraqi politicos with homes in London or the U.S. If the vote generates that realization among the Iraqi population, here’s one possibility: the amplification of Iraqi sensitivity, so that every American outrage will be resented even more, as an imposition upon a proven sovereign body. A tacit timetable of withdrawal, ticking in the nervous systems of Iraqis, will start regardless of the fantasists in D.C.
This is our hope. However, we should hedge this with another scenario. In this one, the amplified sensitivity will become a form of Shi’ite triumphalism, thus making the Sunni/Shi’ite cleavage even more lethal. The Americans will continue being used as an instrument, on the part of some Shi’a faction, of ethnic cleansing, and will take the opportunity to exact their conditions, particularly as the Saudis have finally realized two things in the last year: you have more money come in from forty dollars per barrel than you do from twenty, and the Bush people don’t care if the dollar plummets to 50 cents to the Euro. This makes Iraq much more valuable territory. It will be interesting to see whether Chavez, who is trying to create an international bloc of state run oil organizations, will start pinging on the American radar screen, given these circs.
If I were inclined to trust in portents and omens, I'd be pretty disturbed that the white dove of peace refused to fly away when the Pope freed it, and instead returned to his rooms.