Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraqi election?

Okay, anything I say here is opinion, speculation, feeling around in the dark, so please don't judge it as "scholarship"! An open question: What do you think about the Iraqi election? My main news source (National Public Radio, in the U.S) is reporting that it went better than expected, with large turnouts in the north and south (Kurds and Shia) and some voting in the Sunni middle despite threats and calls for a boycott. Last I heard about 44 were killed and others injured in attacks. NPR is a fairly liberal media source, though not as liberal as they used to be.

The Republicans are declaring victory all over the place, of course. Jimmy Carter (our last good president) was quoted in the last few days as saying something like, "I see no signs that the U.S. will let the Shia determine policies." (That's a close paraphrase; I believe he was talking about foreign and oil policy, but I was running out the door as I heard this so didn't get the whole story.) I have an email from a Ugandan friend that I haven't yet opened titled something like, "Iraqi Election: Biggest Farce of the Century". My bias: From the little I know of him, I really like as-Sistani, who has many of the hallmarks of a Sufi saint, if you read about his behavior and the way people react to and talk about him. Also, he stood up to both as-Sadr and the Americans. He supports the elections, so I think there might be something good in them in spite of various impure agendas and manipulative behaviors. Okay, over to you.

6 comment(s):

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger déraison, at 1/31/2005 03:40:00 PM  

  • Salams Dear Karima,

    I like Jimmy Carter, but I am not sure how "good" he was as president--consider Iran, Afghanistan, and the firing of Andrew Young for meeting with a PLO official at the UN.

    But on the Iraqi elections, I haven't found any other constructive (for both the majority of Iraqis and for the prospect of an expedited withdrawal by the US) options other than to support that process.

    Let's not forget that when Ayatollah Sistani was demanding elections, the US was then standing in his way, and most of the anti-war movement was screaming for elections. Now the elections have happened, and by most measures, went as well as could have been expected, or better.


    By Blogger Ahmed, at 2/01/2005 03:37:00 PM  

  • Would an as-Sistani government lead to Shariah law? Would the Sunnis accept his authority? IThese questions are moot. I would be very suprised if the U.S. could accept that Saddam's successor is a government led by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. I predict more of the same when Allawi is declared the winner in an attempt to legitimize the occupation.

    By Blogger Steve, at 2/01/2005 07:22:00 PM  

  • Mohammad, thanks, I'll check it out. Ahmed, great to hear from you. You got me on Jimmy Carter. Perhaps I should have distinguished between "good" as well-meaning vs. "good" as an effective /wise president. I think there could be some debate on the causes of Carter's problems, some of which were caused by Congressional opposition. But I wasn't too political back then, so I'm hazy on this. Whatever happened to Andrew Young, anyway? To my mind he was an exciting speaker and thinker.

    Steve, I think you and Ahmed together articulate simply and well the cases for having some hope in these elections and for *not* having hope in these elections.
    "Would an as-Sistani government lead to Shariah law?" Well, that is the worrisome part--I understand he supports 'family status laws' and am wondering how that would play out. Regarding your second comment, neither the Sunnis nor anyone else need to accept his authority officially, of course, because he's not running for anything. Perhaps if the Shia did some power-sharing with the Sunnis they could get them on board. (The U.S. will probably force this anyway, won't they?) Your last statement, "I would be very suprised if the U.S. could accept that Saddam's successor is a government led by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq," echoes what Carter was saying. And to me the point is, "Well, is it the business of the U.S. to decide what kind of government Iraq can have?" I wish we would stop spouting all this hooey about freedom and democracy while simultaneously making sure only those we support are in power anywhere, no matter how repressive and undemocratic they are!

    By Blogger Karima, at 2/02/2005 04:11:00 AM  

  • Karima

    Its what Huntington calls the "Paradox of democracy". Paradox, that is, for imperialism. He refers to a situation where - through a democratic process - a government would come into being (particularly referring to the Middle East) that would be anti-American or critical of American politics. What to do in such a situation, is the question he and others like him ask. And many of them answer... We can't allow a democratic process in such a situation.

    But, the Iraqi election has happened (in spite of the US plan, not because of it). And Allawi, btw, is not predicted to win anything much. His list is doing pretty badly, last I heard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/04/2005 11:07:00 AM  

  • Salaams here is Chomsky's take on the elections, i think he gives a fairly balanced view. For my computerchair vantage point - it appears this was something important for many Iraqis - the question is what this will lead to?

    " In many respects, the elections were successful. The main success, however, is being mentioned only marginally, by a few reporters: the US was compelled to allow them to take place. That is a real triumph of non-violent resistance, for which Sistani has been the
    symbol. The US sought in every possible way to avoid elections, but has been compelled to back down, step- by-step.

    First, it tried to ram through a US-written
    constitution. That was barred by a Sistani fatwa.

    Then it tried to impose one or another device
    (caucuses, etc.) that could be controlled completely.

    Also blocked by non-violent resistance. It continued until finally the US (and UK, trailing obediently behind) had no recourse but to allow an election -- and of course, the doctrinal system went into high gear to present it as a US initiative, once it could no longer be avoided.

    The US also sought to undermine it as much
    as possible, e.g., by driving independent media out of the country (notably al-Jazeera, the most important), by ensuring that its own candidates, particularly Allawi, would be the only ones to have access to state resources to reach the public (most candidates had to remain unidentified), etc.

    But the US-UK couldn't block the elections, greatly to the distress of Washington and London. The question now is whether they can be compelled to accept the outcome.

    There's little doubt, even from the more serious mainstream press as well as from polls and from properly hawkish experts (like Anthony Cordesman) that people voted with the hope that it would end the occupation. Blair announced at once, loud and clear, that the prospect is not even being contemplated, clearly articulating his usual contempt for democracy. Washington also announced that the US military forces would stay at least into 2007, whatever Iraqis want.

    The more serious press, like the Wall St Journal, is reporting that the US is attempting to secure some kind of agreement on a "vague promise" to withdraw eventually.

    Other issues will be whether the US can pressure the elected officials to keep to the occupation-imposed legal structure to open up the economy to US takeover.

    The oil minister of the interim (effectively, US-appointed) government has already announced his intention to open up the oil industry to foreign (meaning primarily US) takeover. And so on.

    There are sure to be continuing struggles over these matters, and what happens here can have a significant outcome. There will be a major effort to project the required imagery about how the "free" and "sovereign" government wants the US to keep a long-term military presence, to take over a commanding role in the economy, etc.

    But that's normal, as in Indochina, Central America, etc. It's routine, not just in the
    US, of course.

    I don't think comparisons to 1984 in ES or 1990 in NIcaragua are very useful. In those cases, the US was eager to have an election in the hope that it would ratify Washington's resort to violence to undermine any prospect of democracy.

    This case is different. Whether it will be good for the people of Iraq is, in large measure, up to us."

    Noam Chomsky

    By Blogger redwood, at 2/05/2005 10:05:00 PM  

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