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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

When the Lid Comes Off 

With the Iraqi elections drawing nigh, Bob Drefuss (of the Dreyfuss Report) has posted a brief backgrounder by Patrick Lang, the former Middle East chief at the Defense Intelligence Agency, who reminds us that until the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in 1958 Iraq had a parliamentary government and a "rather liberal Western style constitution." After that, things got dicey -- as they are about to do again:
The lid “screwed down” by imperial Britain lasted remarkably well long after they had gone and it functioned largely on the basis of the British sponsored continuation of the millennium long domination of the area by the Sunni Arab community. The Sunni Arabs remained the real rulers of the country until the American invasion of 2003 and the Shia Arabs remained in the position of a despised “underclass” while the largely Sunni Kurds observed the process and resisted it when they dared. Oddly enough, the Baath Party served in Iraq as a political vehicle for the entry of Shia and Christian Iraqis into the “mainstream of Iraqi life. The Baath was founded by Christian Arabs and was designed by them so as to identify people as Arabs, not by religion, but by language and culture. This suited the purposes of the Iraqi Shia perfectly and many, many of them joined the Baath Party rising quite high in the government and armed forces. Indeed, the lieutenant general commanding the Republican Guards Armored Corps in the invasion of Kuwait in the first Gulf War was a Shia.

The present American and British occupation of Iraq has the specific intention of re-organizing the country on the basis of “one man, one vote.” The declaration of this intention pried “the lid” off the “can of worms,” of relations and understandings that had long kept the forces of chaos in check in Iraq. In the Middle East people understand that they must vote for candidates from their own ethno-religious community. To do anything else is a revolutionary choice, something that only a radical would do, perhaps a Baathist. To make that choice is to risk rejection by your own community.
Dreyfus himself is mystified by the phenomenon of Iraqi absentee voters who are planning cast their ballots from the U.S. (and various other countries where they reside). Some of them are so darned "absentee" that they have never set foot in Iraq:
This is, after all, an election in Iraq, but the U.S. media is giving enormous ink to the polling places being set up in the United States, neglecting to mention that these voters have no idea who to vote for, since there is no campaigning, no election materials, and no easy way to find out who the candidates are. Second, the press here keeps calling them Iraqi “exiles,” but they are in fact “immigrants,” just like millions of other foreign-born U.S. citizens and residents. They are not going back. Why exactly they should vote in Iraq isn’t clear to me, but it is clear that they represent a large pool of mostly pro-American (and pro-Shiite) voters.

The Bush administration has been saying for weeks now that the election doesn’t matter, that it’s only a first step, downplaying the importance of the election—even as sober analysts point out that the election is likely to splinter the country and set it up for civil war.

The funniest thing of all is the report that the Iraqi puppet government is planning to ban all private vehicular traffic on election day. How are people supposed to get to the polls? Why don’t they just impose an all-day curfew and order people to stay in their homes? That would make the election safe.
Elsewhere, Dahr Jamail adds that "from January 29th-31st the borders of Iraq will be closed, mobile and satellite phone services will be cut, the borders of Iraq’s 18 governorates will be closed and no civilian traffic will be allowed near the polling stations." Our distinguished colleague Richard Cranium (of the All Spin Zone) is perhaps recalling the virtual news blackout in Fallujah when he speculates that:
Supposedly, all of these measures are meant to keep insurgents bottled up and unable to communicate. It's just as likely that the steps are being taken in the interest of information and media containment until the election is declared a success by the Occupation Office of Propaganda.
Or is he just thinking of Ohio?

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