GEORGE BUSH and Tony Blair say the elections scheduled for the end of this month will bring democracy to Iraq. But the democracy they are talking about is the rule of the occupiers under the cover of an elected Iraqi assembly.
The occupiers will not allow any whiff of real democracy to come near the Iraqi people. These elections will not allow people to vote for a government, but only for a “transitional assembly” that will draft a constitution—one for which the occupation authorities have already set the outline.
The occupation authorities have already broken the rules set by their first imposed governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer, by not carrying out a proper census. Now they have hand-picked the election organisers. There are no international observers and a total of about 700 UN supervisors—not enough for Baghdad, let alone the whole of Iraq. When elections were held in East Timor, with a population of less than three million, there were 350 UN supervisors. Iraq has a population of 25 million.
People are battling to survive everyday life because there is no petrol, no cooking gas, and no heating oil. Cities like Fallujah, Najaf, Mosul, Samara, Ramadi, Baquba, Basra and big districts of Baghdad are in ruins and many people have been made homeless. Kirkuk is in a state of semi civil war and the resistance is operating in every part of Iraq, militarily and by civil disobedience.
In this situation people cannot just go to the polling stations. And people don’t know who to vote for, simply because there is no information about all the parties and slates of candidates. There is no Iraqi terrestrial TV or radio and the newspapers are sporadic and limited in their distribution. No state institutions are functioning.
There can be no campaigning in the way there is in the West under these circumstances. And in large areas of Baghdad and other cities, people will not be able to vote even if they want to because they have been sent registration papers with the wrong names. This has happened in traditionally left-wing districts.
If the names on voting documents don’t tally with people’s ID, they will not be able to vote. In other areas extra people are being registered to vote. Already, people are selling ballot papers, sometimes to get bread on the table. The price of a vote is between $100-$200. In Damascus in Syria, there are Iraqi passports for sale so people can buy them and vote. There are divisions over whether or not to boycott the election.
Many people reject the election under the circumstances of the occupation, with the lack of international supervision and security, lack of proper information about the different political parties and so on.
Al-Ghad, a democratic left Iraqi paper has denounced the election, saying it will lead to a “civil war conducted by Iraqi hands, driven by the occupation authorities”. It set a series of conditions for holding proper elections, starting with the announcement of a timetable for ending the occupation and withdrawing foreign troops.
Voting should be under international supervision decided by the UN, it argued. At present, the mass of people who want a fair election will see a farce. But there are people who want the election now because they see it as the way to get rid of the occupation with less bloodshed. This is the position of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and some Shia and Sunni bourgeois parties, both religious and secular.
On the other side, parties that are working closely with the occupation authorities want the election now because a delay will be seen as a blow to the US.
The US will be happy to use Sistani—in order to undermine him. It will never allow him to be the decision maker. The occupiers will redefine their allies, such as Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi as “Shia” candidates to make it look as though appropriate quotas of successful candidates from different communities have been elected. They will do the same with people from Sunni backgrounds.
But the US will not hand control over to any government that doesn’t toe the line. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger is one voice arguing that Iraq should be divided if the Shia parties win the election.
If the election goes ahead on 30 January, the result will be that the situation on 1 February is no different, except that the US will claim that their allies have now been “legitimately elected”.
But everything else will be the same—the same amount of bombings and the same resistance. This could even increase. Sistani and the Shias could end up disappointed and disillusioned, having tried to use the electoral process to get change. It might prompt the rest of the mass of the population to taking up arms, and unify the country against the US. That’s not far fetched—it’s most likely.
Hani Lazim is a member of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation