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The elections in Iraq

The indications of a  new social order, or re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic ,as Iraq slides ever deeper into civil war?

Since the end of the Second World War, when the US forced the Italian government to discharge its Communist Party cabinet members as a prerequisite for aid, to its support for the coup attempt in Venezuela in 2003, the US has been regularly subverting elections around the globe for the benefit of its own corporate elite.

Ever fearful that foreign governments might, among other things, introduce labour and environmental legislation detrimental to US investments, Washington has opposed the principle of democracy on almost every continent, even helping to overthrow democratically elected governments whenever it felt its interests threatened (e.g. Iran in 1953, Guatemala 1954, Congo 1960, Ecuador 1961, Bolivia 1964. Greece 1967, Fiji 1987).

Nor have its methods been peaceable. Indeed its agents in the CIA have carried out assassination of prominent individuals with as much indifference as its embassies have supported right-wing death squads and bloody coup attempts throughout Central and South America. Across the world, the US has backed dictators of every hue, turning a blind eye to their horrendous affronts to the democratic process.

We are now to believe that the US, presently occupying “sovereign Iraq” (for President Bush has declared Iraq is now “sovereign”), a country with sizeable oil reserves, and which has lost 100,000 of its people since the US-UK invasion, will see  that free and democratic elections take place on 30 January. Bush has since informed the people of Iraq – the same Iraq in which the CIA helped Saddam Hussein pull off the military coup that originally brought him to power: “We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave.”

John Negroponte, the US Ambassador in Iraq, has been adamant that the US will not allow a delay in the 30 January vote. Speaking to reporters he stated that the elections would go ahead and that the security situation would be improved by then, and went so far as to say that conditions in 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces were already safe enough for elections to be held.

He said: “I think once they realize that the elections will go forward as planned, then they [Sunni opponents of the election] are going to have to deal with that reality” (Washington Post, 1 December). However the Sunni resistance looks set to spiral, his comments coming  just after it was reported that US deaths in Iraq in November matched the post-invasion record set in April – 135 troops dead.

In Washington and London,  the claim is that the ongoing attacks by insurgents are an all-out attempt to disrupt the coming elections, when in truth the overriding fact is that many Iraqis still see the US as an army of occupation whose presence they have a right to oppose. An opinion poll carried out in September by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority confirmed that opposition to the US presence was widespread. It revealed that just 2 percent of Iraqi Arabs – that is, minus the Kurdish population – agreed wholeheartedly with the occupation. If anything, this shows that in spite of the age-old hostilities between Sunnis and Shiites, one thing that could unite them is their hostility to an occupying army of 138,000 – a figure set to increase before the election.

Securing the peace in Iraq in time for the elections has so far meant installing a pliable puppet regime, and implementing Order 39, which the Economist (25 September 2003) described as “a capitalist’s dream” and which opened up the Iraqi economy to complete foreign takeover. It has meant the deliberate bombing of homes, hospitals and religious buildings by squadrons of bombers and helicopter gun-ships, turning cities into rubble (Fallujah was napalmed), cutting off water, electricity and medical supplies and spreading hunger and disease.

A comprehensive new study by the British-based charity organisation Medact, which looks at the impact of war on health, reveals that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years has increased from 4 percent prior to the invasion to 7.7 percent since the invasion and that about 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering from ‘wasting’ and ‘emaciation’ conditions of chronic diarrhoea and protein deficiency.

Despite such facts as these, Washington would have it that people in Iraq are being irrational in not supporting US-organised elections.

As we go to press, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish politicians are at odds over whether elections can take place on 30 January as planned. Iraq's 60 percent Shia majority, who clearly suffered worst under Saddam’s reign, are keen for the elections to go ahead on time, knowing they are likely to consolidate the increased power they have enjoyed since overthrow of the essentially Sunni president Saddam. However, as rebels have continued their assaults on other towns since the fall of Fallujah, a campaign led by Sunni politicians has gathered momentum, with Shia leaders claiming that a postponement of the election date would only play into the hands of the insurgents.

The head of the Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has insisted that the elections go ahead. He has been backed by 42 mainly Shia and Turkmen parties who have issued a statement to say moves to delay the elections were illegal.

Conversely, Adnan Pachachi, a former Sunni minister, is heading a group of 17 political parties asking that the 30 January vote be delayed by six months because of the violence, fearing the insurgency in Sunni towns will discourage people from voting, thus disenfranchising them. Significantly, the two major Kurdish parties have also signed up to the delay

Alawi, the interim leader appointed by Washington to run Iraq, has said that in centres of resistance like Fallujah elections could be “delayed” until stability existed there, without the vote being invalidated, or in other words Washington-style democracy would will be available in the first instance only to those who did not resist the occupation by US forces.

Alawi, it seems, has no real control over the situation, and though it is said he has the power to cancel the election if he wished, there still exists the US hand-picked seven-member commission set up to run the elections, which can bar any candidate or party from standing and which will be deciding who is and who is not eligible to stand as a candidate.

Under the rules, the Iraqi electorate will vote for a 275-member Transitional National Assembly. Political parties will submit a list of candidates and every third name has to be a woman’s. Those Parties with alleged connections to militias are disqualified from taking part, along with former leading members of the Baath Party.

The US hopes to have 150,000 troops in place in time for the election, evidence if ever it was needed that the crisis in Iraq is escalating. It was not so long ago that Bush was boasting how US troops had been greeted as liberators and projected that the country could be policed with 50,000 troops by the end of 2003. Now military analysts are cautioning that the Iraq army and police force will not be in a position to police the country for another ten years. So much, then for Bush’s claim that once a legitimate Iraqi government is up and running the troops will be on their way home.

And as for the post-election situation, make no mistake, any government elected in Iraq will be permitted to function only so long as it kowtows to the dictates of Washington. Whatever, government is elected to ‘rule’ Iraq on 30 January it will only be allowed to do so with the endorsement of the White House.

Here in Britain, Bush’s sidekick, Tony Blair, is likewise looking forward to a post-election regime in Iraq that has no real say on foreign investment. Moreover, Blair is desperate for elections to take place in Iraq for the simple reason that he needs something resembling a foreign policy success to present to voters in the run up to the election. Indeed any good news at all at the moment would be welcomed by New Labour.

The essential goal of the Bush regime in the Middle East remains the same as that of preceding administrations going back to WWII, and that is to reinforce control of the region’s oil reserves and the profits that arise from them. Furthermore, Washington is well aware that control of Middle East oil gives the US enormous leverage over its economic rivals, Europe, Japan and China, all of whom are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than the US. China in particular is expected to have the same oil demands as the US within 25 years.

That Iraq has huge oils supplies is the sole reason the US cannot allow a government –  freely elected by its people and one advocating a US departure – to exist.

JOHN BISSETT