Anyone who happened to watch the message on
The hypocrisy was at its highest: as was predictable and predicted, George W. Bush tried to present the Iraqi elections as a great feat of democracy for which his administration could claim the main credit. On TV screens, the public could see an Iraqi woman standing up in front of the two chambers of Congress and raising her purple finger — the forefinger in her case, whereas the Iraqi people had indeed raised their middle fingers at their occupiers, to borrow Naomi Klein’s joke in her excellent piece (“Getting the Purple Finger,” The Nation, Feb. 10, 2005).
In the next few days, the
Washington’s and London’s stooges were rejected, and Iyad Allawi, as well as al-Yawar, Pachachi, etc., had no choice but to wage campaigns on their own, while the Ayatollah sponsored a United Iraqi Alliance (UIA, its commonly used denomination in English) friendly to Iran, including the key Shia Islamic fundamentalist forces as well as a variety of other Shia and non-Shia groups.
Despite the heavy-handed US interference in the electoral campaign, and the strong financial and political backing by Washington and London, their stooge Allawi was severely defeated, getting less than 14% of the votes — and this despite the non-participation in the voting of an important part of the Iraqi population, most of them very much opposed to everything he represents.
The remarkable and impressive mass mobilization among Shias and Kurds in the safest provinces of the country (on this, see the appendix below) led to a sweeping victory of the UIA with 48% of the total vote cast followed by the Kurdish Alliance with 26%, Allawi’s list coming a distant third with only little over half the votes of the Kurdish slate. (A fast spreading rumor says that the
Washington’s vain hope that Allawi’s slate, along with other pro-occupation forces, could get a number of seats allowing them to perpetuate the puppet regime with the support of Kurdish members of the elected Assembly was shattered. Even though the UIA does not command the two-thirds of seats required for key decisions — this according to the Bremer-devised Transitional Administrative Law, which is contested by the UIA and which Ayatollah al-Sistani vetoed when Washington tried to inscribe it in the UN resolution calling for the election — it is by far the main pillar of the new Assembly, with more than half its seats.
It was absolutely obvious to all observers that the great majority of Arab voters — and therefore the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi population, taking into account the dominant mood of those who didn’t vote — were and are opposed to the occupation. Actually, it did not escape most observers’ attention that the vast majority of Arab voters considered their vote to be a political means to get rid of the occupation. This mood was so compelling that almost all Arab Iraqi slates included the withdrawal of foreign troops as a central item of their program. Even Allawi’s list did so! (Their banners stated in Arabic: Vote for Allawi’s slate if you want a strong
The UIA’s electoral program called very explicitly for negotiations with the occupation forces in order to set a timetable for their withdrawal. This very same demand has become the central requisite of the political forces that are staunchest in their opposition to the occupation: the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (or Council of Muslim Ulema) and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Current. The two entered an informal alliance to press this demand on the majority of the elected Assembly.
It is to this same demand again that George W. Bush referred explicitly when he declared in his State of the Union address:
“We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving
The choice of words was quite precise and meaningful: “We will not set an artificial timetable” meant no timetable at all, since any timetable can only be “artificial,” whereas the “natural” deadline that Bush hinted at — “We are in
A “democratic” Iraq means, for Bush, a country that is not ruled by an Iran-like regime combining Islamic fundamentalism, a measure of parliamentarianism and hostility to US domination (though Washington is perfectly happy with the Saudi combination of servility to the US and extreme fundamentalism — certainly the most undemocratic and anti-women regime on earth). An
This section of Bush’s State of the Union address, with its stress on the “result” versus the “timetable,” was echoing very clearly the warning formulated publicly a few days earlier by two senior veterans of the Republican foreign policy establishment, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. They had published together an article in the Washington Post on January 25, on the eve of the Iraqi election — the title of which was: “Results, Not Timetables, Matter in
It is worth quoting at length due to its blunt expression of the real strategic considerations guiding
“The essential prerequisite for an acceptable exit strategy is a sustainable outcome, not an arbitrary time limit. For the outcome in
“If a democratic process is to unify
“The reaction to intransigent Sunni brutality and the relative Shiite quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shiite rule. The American experience with Shiite theocracy in
“The Constituent Assembly emerging from the elections will be sovereign to some extent. But the United States’ continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives: (1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis; (2) to prevent any areas from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centers for terrorists; (3) to keep Shiite government from turning into a theocracy, Iranian or indigenous; (4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi democratic process.”
What Kissinger, Shultz and company are clearly advocating, and what the Bush administration is acting on, is that
The stakes here are all the more crucial for US imperialist interests, in that:
1) A full political defeat in
2) Iraq is part of a regional, mainly Shia, “crescent of crisis” in Washington’s — and Israel’s — strategic view, which stretches from Lebanon, where it is represented by the Hizbullah in alliance with Syrian hegemony, to the Alawite-dominated regime in Syria (the Alawites are an offspring of Shiism), to pro-Iranian Shia forces in Iraq, to the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.
THE NEXT IRAQI GOVERNMENT AND THE OCCUPATION
The discussion in
It is a deadly wrong view. On the one hand, experience has shown in an indisputable way that the longer the occupation lingers, the more the situation in
On the other hand, the occupiers can be legitimately suspected of fostering forms of chaos and violence, as well as ethnic and sectarian rifts, in order to perpetuate and legitimate the occupation. They are actually accused of behaving in this way by the great majority of the Iraqi people. Most Iraqis believe that
This is one reason, incidentally, why the staunchest anti-occupation political forces, i.e. the already mentioned alliance between the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Current, have repeatedly called for a clear distinction to be drawn between the legitimate resistance against occupation forces and what they call “terrorism,” putting rightly under this label those who resort to violence against innocent civilians, whether Iraqis or foreigners, and of course to sectarian attacks.
This development is perfectly in line with the shift in
When Bremer got rid of Chalabi and designated Allawi as head of the puppet regime, the latter started reintegrating former major Baathists in the new Iraqi government and armed forces, thus infuriating the key Shia forces coalesced in the UIA. The Shia fundamentalist forces possessing militias, i.e. the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in
Faced with the prospect of a clash with the Shia majority,
All these developments stress one more time the necessity for the anti-imperialist left abroad to be very discerning in its attitude to the very complex Iraqi situation, and to avoid pitfalls such as an unqualified support to the Iraqi resistance without the necessary distinctions, and the simplistic belief that the only legitimate or effective form of struggle is the armed one.
The Shia-Sunni anti-occupation alliance of the Association of Muslim Scholars and al-Sadr’s Current is perfectly right in its insistence on the withdrawal of foreign troops as the central demand and necessity in the present situation in
This anti-occupation alliance is right on the national issue. It doesn’t mean however that they are “progressive” forces. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Current in particular is a fiercely fundamentalist tendency, deeply reactionary on many social, cultural and gender issues. It is only a testimony to the historical failure of the left in that part of the world — the glaring defeat of the Iraqi Communist Party in the elections is a clear illustration — that religious forces, including various brands of fundamentalists, are dominant in the peoples’ struggle against foreign and local oppression. Fortunately, the very heterogeneity of Iraqi society imposes clear limits on any project to impose an Islamic fundamentalist rule in the country.
THE TASK OF THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT
Notwithstanding the position that the next Iraqi government will express on the issue of the occupation, the antiwar movement abroad must definitely increase, more than ever, its pressure around the demand of the immediate and total withdrawal of occupation troops from
The fact is that this majority will be confronted sooner or later with US pressures of all kind (on this, see the articles by Milan Rai, “How Washington Plans To Dominate The New Iraqi National Assembly,” posted on Electronic Iraq, Feb. 16, 2005 and the one by Jaafar al-Ahmar, in Arabic, “Interior and Defense will determine the influence of the UIA and al-Jaafari’s success in resisting US pressure,” published in Al-Hayat, Feb. 24, 2005). It will have to face squarely the fact that
Therefore, the Iraqi people, and its majority representatives, stand only to gain from the most powerful pressure exerted by the antiwar movement abroad for the immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of occupation troops from
The antiwar movement should also start planning for the perspective of a protracted struggle to end the occupation of
The global antiwar movement did it once. It can do it again: We shall overcome.
Appendix: On the January 30 election
Given the nature of the prevailing security conditions in
Such a participation rate of 60% — in a country where, due to the imposed curfew, voters had often to walk very long distances to get to the polling stations, and where several terrorist groups had threatened to kill would-be voters through snipers, car-bombs or suicide-attacks, and to murder anyone seen with a purple finger — was a remarkable achievement. It was a powerful testimony to the thirst for democracy of a people that has been subjected for several decades to one of the most brutal regimes in the world, and in particular, among the most oppressed sections of this people, which formed between them the overwhelming majority.
Beginning the day after the Iraqi elections, there has been an incredibly wide use of the same single article in the New York Times on the 1967 election in
This analogy is completely false and misleading. To measure the huge difference between the two situations, searchers of the NYT archive could have read, for instance, the article titled “Senators Deplore ‘Fraud’ In Vote Drive in
It began: “A dozen Senators from both [US ruling] parties charged today that the South Vietnamese Presidential election campaign was being turned into a ‘fraud,’ ‘farce’ and ‘charade’ by the ruling military junta.”
And right these Senators were! It is possible to prove indisputably, from now available sources like CIA documents, that the 1967 Vietnamese elections were rigged, imposed by
To draw an analogy with the Iraqi elections imposed on
Does one also need to mention the huge difference between the Vietnamese resistance and those forces that tried to prevent the elections in
Gilbert Achcar is the author of The Clash of Barbarisms and Eastern Cauldron, both published by Monthly Review Press in