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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Democracy: Looks Good on Paper, But . . . . 

Prof. Juan Cole notes an odd lacuna in recent press coverage of newly-democratized Iraq. No one seems to be talking much about the fact that the Iraqi parliament has elected a new prime minister who is not Washington's favored candidate, but Muqtada al-Sadr's:
I scanned the US cable news channels and only CNN Headline News was making much of this development, and then only briefly. It raises the question for me of whether US television news has unspoken racist undertones. There are exceptions. Wolf Blitzer's Sunday show on CNN, actually allows real live Middle Easterners to speak to the US public. Fine reporters such as Nic Roberts at CNN will set up brief clips of a Jaafari press conference or a short Q & A on a particular issue with an Iraqi official. But on the hour-long t.v. news magazines, or even just with the anchors during the day, we never see so much as an extended interview with Ibrahim Jaafari. Isn't that weird? The real UK BBC will do an hour-long interview with an Iraqi cabinet minister like Ali Allawi. But our television news almost never talks to anyone among important Iraqi politicians, with the possible exception of the Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani, the mostly ceremonial president of Iraq. Aren't the Iraqi politicians who have come to power in the celebrated purple-thumb Iraqi elections worth talking to? Don't Americans care what they think? Or are they just a blank set of canvases on which Kansas gets to paint its own preconceptions and prejudices (a process made all the easier if real Iraqis are not allowed to speak on camera to Americans)?
From an earlier Cole post on the two candidates:
One candidate, Ibrahim Jaafari, is from a conservative background in the holy city of Karbala. When he fled Iraq in 1980, he spent some time studying in seminary at Qom in Iran. As prime minister, he raised eyebrows when he declined to shake hands with women. Jaafari is from the Dawa Party, some branches of which stayed in Iraq under Saddam. It is the oldest Shiite fundamentalist party, and dreams of a sort of lay Islamic state (i.e. with Islamic law but not run by clerics). Jaafari's record as prime minister is mixed. The Kurdish president Jalal Talabani accused him of being high-handed. Others have accused him of being indecisive. (Can both charges be true?) On his watch, the security situation has continued to deteriorate. But it is his rival, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, that has the effective paramilitary force, the Badr Corps. As Badr has been recruited into the Ministry of the Interior special police commandos, Sunnis charged that they kidnapped suspected guerrillas and killed them, and they developed secret prisons where they tortured the mostly Sunni inmates. Again, Jaafari is accused both of laxness and severity at once.

His main rival, the cosmopolitan French-speaking Adil Abdul Mahdi, has been a Marxist, a Baathist, a Shiite fundamentalist, and more recently a free marketeer, and is reputedly favored (for the latter reason) by Washington.

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