Friday, January 21, 2005

Discussion Topic Friday, January 21, 2005 Elections in Iraq. As the elections are slated to happen within the next ten days, CNN reports that intelligence sources estimate 150 car bombings and 250 suicide attacks are planned ahead of Iraq elections at the end of the month. A top Iraqi police official said the information came to light during interrogations of recently detained insurgents who said targets of the attacks would include election centres and other locations, without being specific. Responding to the report, a U.S. military spokesman said: "This is the trend we have been expecting as we get closer to the election." About how this election will be run, albeit possible with the increased insurgency mentioned above, the BBC has a useful Q & A site that sets out the procedures for these elections. As to foreign military presence in Iraq, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1546, the mandate of the foreign troops in Iraq will cease when the new fully constitutional government takes office, though the troops could then be asked to stay by the new authorities. However, there will also be a review ahead of this, in June 2005, and at any stage the troops could be asked to leave. So what happens on February 1, 2005, is anybody’s guess, but for sure it will not be an overnight panacea that cures Iraq. There is widespread speculation as to what will happen; here are some opinions from the media. First there is this ridiculous report from Fox that says. “But progress is being made in pockets across the country. Libraries have expanded, women’s centres have cropped up and in a northern city called Irbil, and an international airport is opening in the hopes that the region will one day promote tourism.” Then a slightly more rational, but still a fundamentally overoptimistic assessment, the Washington Post says that Iraq's upcoming elections will be an event with real potential to turn the tide both in Iraq and in the war on terrorism. As Afghanistan demonstrates, credible elections -- elections that are perceived as free and fair -- can sap the influence of violent extremists whose only claim to power is brute force and intimidation. However, in what appears to be a more realistic assessment, today the Guardian reports that, amid escalating insurgent attacks, a threatened Sunni boycott, and growing American misgivings, the prospect of Iraq's elections producing a strong, inclusive government looks increasingly remote. Despite the violence and signs of cold feet in the interim administration led by Ayad Allawi, the polls will go ahead on January 30. The US knows Iraq's Shia majority parties, which expect to emerge victorious, will brook no further delay. But the elections are also likely to be deeply flawed in terms of security, participation and transparency. The UN has relatively few staff in place. Iraqi poll organisers are quitting due to intimidation. Even if they want to vote, many among the Sunni Arab minority may not dare, said Rime Allaf, a Middle East expert at Chatham House. "The elections will not produce a credible government," she predicted. Then there the are views and opinion that are out there in the blogosphere. Juan Cole in a comparison, with the American War of Independence, says that the problem is that Iraqis are not electing a president, even a war president. They are in effect electing a constitutional assembly. The main business of the new parliament is to craft a permanent constitution. So, the analogy would be to 1789. What would the new American Republic's chances have been if the Southern states had not been able to send delegates to the constitutional convention, and so had been excluded from having an input into it? All sorts of compromises had to be hammered out in 1789, concerning southern slavery and how to count a slave for census purposes, etc. If the South hadn't been able to show up, the northern states would simply have ignored those issues, and the secession of those states might have come 70 years early. Would the North have been able to resist it so successfully at that point? Likewise, Sunni Arabs have a big stake in the permanent constitution. Will it give Kirkuk and its oil to the Kurds, depriving Arabs of any share in those revenues? Will it ensconce Shiite law as the law of the land? Will it keep a unicameral parliament, in which Shiites would have a permanent majority, or will it create an upper chamber where Sunnis might be better represented, on the model of the US senate? If all those issues go against the Sunnis because they aren't there to argue their positions, it would set Iraq up for guerrilla war into the foreseeable future. The Sunnis are unlikely to grant that if they end up being woefully underrepresented. And then you will just have to reconquer Fallujah again next year. How long before you are just conquering rubble and snipers? Then there are the views of those on the ground in Iraq, Dahr Jamail, who is regularly linked here by many of our great readers, wrote last Wednesday that the US-backed Iraqi government has announced draconian measures which state that from January 29th-31st the borders of Iraq will be closed, mobile and satellite phone services will be cut, the borders of Iraq’s 18 governorates will be closed and no civilian traffic will be allowed near the polling stations. Polling stations will each have several rings of security in an attempt to stave off the violence. Be that as it may, the Ministry of Health is making special preparations to deal with the massive bloodshed expected for the “elections.” There are other bloggers in Iraq, most notably, Iraq the Model, who say that with the elections' day getting closer, I'm hearing more voices warning of the possibility of a civil war in Iraq after the elections and I want to say that I do not find that theory the least acceptable; the theory of the civil war doesn't match any of the facts on the ground and it's based on visions of people who have never lived among Iraqis and have no real-if any-experience in the region. The coming days will be a test for these theories but I'm almost positive that nothing like that is going to happen and so I don't need to wait to find out. Mind you, the possible credibility, of Iraq the Model was reported on by the BBC this week. But the last word must go to Colin Powell. Who famously said to the UN in February, 2003. “"I cannot tell you everything that we know, but what I can share with you, when combined with what all of us have learned over the years, is deeply troubling." On the aftermath of the Iraqi Elections: Powell says: "We all are worried about what's going to happen after the elections, we all are concerned that this insurgency is going to continue."


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