Some Just Voted for Food (Iraq)
- Karen thought you would like this site.
Some Just Voted for Food
By Dahr Jamail
Inter Press Service
Monday 31 January 2005
BAGHDAD - Voting in Baghdad was linked with receipt of food rations, several voters said after the Sunday poll.
Many Iraqis said Monday that their names were marked on a list provided by the government agency that provides monthly food rations before they were allowed to vote.
"I went to the voting centre and gave my name and district where I lived to a man," said Wassif Hamsa, a 32-year-old journalist who lives in the predominantly Shia area Janila in Baghdad. "This man then sent me to the person who distributed my monthly food ration."
Mohammed Ra'ad, an engineering student who lives in the Baya'a district of the capital city reported a similar experience.
Ra'ad, 23, said he saw the man who distributed monthly food rations in his district at his polling station. "The food dealer, who I know personally of course, took my name and those of my family who were voting," he said. "Only then did I get my ballot and was allowed to vote."
"Two of the food dealers I know told me personally that our food rations would be withheld if we did not vote," said Saeed Jodhet, a 21-year-old engineering student who voted in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad.
There has been no official indication that Iraqis who did not vote would not receive their monthly food rations.
Many Iraqis had expressed fears before the election that their monthly food rations would be cut if they did not vote. They said they had to sign voter registration forms in order to pick up their food supplies.
Their experiences on the day of polling have underscored many of their concerns about questionable methods used by the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government to increase voter turnout.
Just days before the election, 52 year-old Amin Hajar who owns an auto garage in central Baghdad had said: "I'll vote because I can't afford to have my food ration cut...if that happened, me and my family would starve to death."
Hajar told IPS that when he picked up his monthly food ration recently, he was forced to sign a form stating that he had picked up his voter registration. He had feared that the government would use this information to track those who did not vote.
Calls to the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq (IECI) and to the Ministry of Trade, which is responsible for the distribution of the monthly food ration, were not returned.
Other questions have arisen over methods to persuade people to vote. U.S. troops tried to coax voters in Ramadi, capital city of the al-Anbar province west of Baghdad to come out to vote, AP reported.
IECI officials have meanwhile 'downgraded' their earlier estimate of voter turnout.
IECI spokesman Farid Ayar had declared a 72 percent turnout earlier, a figure given also by the Bush Administration.
But at a press conference Ayar backtracked on his earlier figure, saying the turnout would be nearer 60 percent of registered voters.
The earlier figure of 72 percent, he said, was "only guessing" and "just an estimate" that had been based on "very rough, word of mouth estimates gathered informally from the field." He added that it will be some time before the IECI can issue accurate figures on the turnout.
"Percentages and numbers come only after counting and will be announced when it's over," he said. "It is too soon to say that those were the official numbers."
Where there was a large turnout, the motivation behind the voting and the processes both appeared questionable. The Kurds up north were voting for autonomy, if not independence. In the south and elsewhere Shias were competing with Kurds for a bigger say in the 275-member national assembly.
In some places like Mosul the turnout was heavier than expected. But many of the voters came from outside, and identity checks on voters appeared lax. Others spoke of vote-buying bids.
The Bush Administration has lauded the success of the Iraq election, but doubtful voting practices and claims about voter turnout are both mired in controversy.
Election violence too was being seen differently across the political spectrum.
More than 30 Iraqis, a U.S. soldier, and at least 10 British troops died Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis were also wounded in attacks across Baghdad, in Baquba 50km northeast of the capital as well as in the northern cities Mosul and Kirkuk.
The British troops were on board a C-130 transport plane that crashed near Balad city just northwest of Baghdad. The British military has yet to reveal the cause of the crash.
Despite unprecedented security measures in which 300,000 U.S. and Iraqi security forces were brought in to curb the violence, nine suicide bombers and frequent mortar attacks took a heavy toll in the capital city, while strings of attacks were reported around the rest of the country.
As U..S. President George W. Bush saw it, "some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens."
- Thank you for sending this out.
Given the debate on this listserv over what the Iraqi elections mean for
antiwar activists in the U.S., I thought you might appreciate hearing from
an IRAQI writer opposed to the occupation.
By the way, some of the "critique" of the Iraqi resistance on this listserv
smacks of the worst kind of American chauvanism. Oh, we'll support your
right to self determination and an independent state IF you believe and act
the way we want you to.
Until activists here uphold our end of the bargain -- unconditional
opposition to our nation's invasion and devastation of another, sovereign
nation -- we have no right to "advise" the resistance to a foriegn, military
Sami Ramadani on the struggle against occupation
Behind the rising tide of resistance in Iraq
Socialist Worker | January 28, 2005 | Pages 6 and 7
SAMI RAMADANI lived in exile from his native Iraq for many years as a
political refugee from Saddam Hussein�s regime. But he stood strongly with
the international antiwar movement in opposing the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq. He is a columnist for Britain�s Guardian newspaper and a senior
lecturer in sociology at the London Metropolitan University.
Ramadani was interviewed by ERIC RUDER about what�s at stake in the Iraqi
elections -- and what the future holds for Iraq�s resistance to U.S.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WILL THE January 30 elections accomplish what the U.S. wants them to
THE POPULAR hostility to the invasion and occupation has not given the
U.S. administration time to breathe in Iraq. They have thus stumbled from one
reactive �initiative� to the next. This hostility has thwarted most of the
pre-war plans. And here, I disagree with those who think that the U.S. and
Britain had no plans for Iraq after the invasion.
After more than a year of opposing calls for early elections in Iraq, the
U.S. administration relented, jumped on the bandwagon and tried its best to
draw capital out of the exercise. Domestically, it helped the Bush
re-election campaign. Internationally, the neo-cons appeared to be faithful
to their agenda of spreading �democracy.�
Much more importantly, they quickly saw an enormous value in starting an
election process that could sow discord within Iraq and, for the first time,
create an important division of opinion among the anti-occupation
organizations and among the mass of the people outside Iraqi Kurdistan.
However, Paul Bremer also made sure to enact enough laws, though
internationally illegal, to dictate the process of the election and to
ensure the reelection of a reincarnation of the present interim government.
WHAT�S THE level of opposition to the elections among Iraqis? For example,
is the media accurate in generally saying that the Shiite Muslim majority
supports the elections and Sunni Muslims don�t?
I THINK most people in Iraq are opposed to holding elections under the
control of and during the brutal occupation. The savage attacks on Falluja,
Najaf and Sadr City and the torture of prisoners have sharpened opposition
to the occupation-organized elections. Opposition also hardened in the light
of the sharply deteriorating quality of life on all fronts.
This was a strong shift from the very popular calls for immediate elections
after the invasion in April 2003.
These calls were rejected by the occupation authorities, using the pretext
of the necessity for holding a new census and the �inadequacy� of
identifying the electorate by using the ration cards held by all Iraqi
families. The full records of these ration cards--which were distributed by
the Saddam regime during the murderous 13 years of U.S.-led sanctions--were
held by the United Nations to monitor the oil-for-food program designed to
prevent sanctions causing widespread starvation in Iraq.
The rising tide of the resistance, however, forced a change of direction,
and the swift legitimization of the occupation became an absolute necessity.
[Iraq�s foremost Shiite cleric] Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had earlier
strengthened his standing by calling for swift constitutional assembly
elections and by denouncing Bremer�s interim constitution under which the
two forthcoming elections would be run. His change of stance and support for
Bremer�s election scheme has certainly contributed to the division of
opinion among the people.
However, it is wrong to see the division in sectarian terms. The popular
Sadr movement [led by militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr] and secular
anti-occupation forces in Sadr City in Baghdad and the south have ensured
that there is no great enthusiasm for this undemocratic exercise.
Opposition to the election, outside of Iraqi Kurdistan, is based on three
essentials: there can be no fair and free elections under a brutal
occupation; the election process is deeply flawed and designed to perpetuate
the occupation and sow sectarian and ethnic divisions; and the process will
disenfranchise millions of Iraqis.
THE U.S. government dismisses the Iraqi resistance to occupation as a
hodgepodge of �terrorists� or remnants of the old regime. Can you talk about
the character of the resistance?
THE DEFINITIVE article �the� tends to portray the resistance as a
centralized, unified movement, while in reality, it is extremely diverse and
localized networks of mostly young anti-occupation activists.
In the impoverished working-class districts of Baghdad, such as Sadr City,
and in Najaf, Basra and other southern cities, the Sadr movement is by far
the biggest and most organized of the resistance forces. However, even this
movement is based on neighborhood networks that very generally support
Sadr�s anti-occupation acts.
In the rest of Baghdad as well as cities and villages to the north, there is
no one dominant organization. There are Islamist (mostly Arab, but some
Kurdish, too), Arab nationalist and secular forces. The secular trends are
strong, but lack strong pan-Iraqi organizations. They range from left-wing
trends to former Baathists who denounced Saddam for �surrendering� Iraq to
the U.S.-led forces.
In the age of instant publicity, those organizations that have access to the
Internet and manage to make videos of their activities have generally
captured the headlines. These have been mostly Islamist organizations, which
have given an exaggerated impression of the extent of their strength within
the broad resistance movement.
The biggest headlines have been reserved for the terrorist and murderous
acts of the Zarqawi-type organizations. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who has
recently combined forces with Osama bin Laden, is not an Iraqi, and to judge
from their accents, neither are most of the kidnappers who produce the
infamous videos showing the beheading of captives.
Anti-occupation Iraqis invariably accuse the occupation forces (and the
50,000 foreign mercenaries they have contracted to operate in Iraq) of using
these �fundamentalist� gangs and some of the Saddamist thugs to create
confusion; besmirch the reputation of the resistance; target Shia and Sunni
religious figures and shrines; and kill humanitarian organization personnel
and journalists mostly sympathetic to the cause of the Iraqi people.
In this respect, it is very important to closely examine the record and
activities of John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad operating from
Saddam�s massive Republican Palace.
It has come as a surprise to me that some left and liberal commentators have
been very quick to accuse the Iraqi resistance of �hedonism� and �targeting�
civilians. Not only have they done this without producing concrete evidence,
but they also have tended to accuse the resistance in general.
My own assessment is that their time would be much more fruitfully spent
digging into Negroponte�s record of coordinating the activities of terror
organizations that targeted trade unionists and others in Central America in
I think that these commentators are causing enormous damage to the right of
the Iraqi people to resist the occupation. I am not pretending that Iraqi
resistance elements are some kind of special angels, but they are not
peculiar monsters, either.
Nor are they the first resistance movement that targeted collaborators and
persons working with occupation forces. We only have to look at the record
of the resistance forces in France and elsewhere in Europe in the fight
against Nazi occupation forces to see how bitter and bloody these conflicts
To those who say that the U.S.-led forces should not be compared to the Nazi
forces in Europe, I say this might be strictly true, but try telling it to
the people of the neighborhoods of Falluja, Najaf and Sadr City--at the
receiving end of bombardment by the most lethal death-and-destruction
machine in human history. Try telling it to the relatives, loved ones and
dearest friends of the over 100,000 Iraqis killed by the occupation forces.
Those who only see the Iraqi resistance through the prism of the spectacular
terrorist operations are perhaps not aware that of the average of 3,000
military operations per month against the occupation forces, the terrorist
operations that target civilians and grab the daily headlines are not much
more than 30 per month.
THE MEDIA in the U.S. are especially focused currently on the split between
Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. How has this division affected the
I THINK that this split is highly exaggerated and is often based on lack
of knowledge and understanding of Iraqi society and history. There are Shia
living throughout Iraq, including Kurdistan, and similarly, there are Sunnis
and Christians who have peacefully coexisted for many centuries.
There is no history of communal strife or civil war in Iraq, and the degree
of socio-economic integration and unity of purpose among the Iraqi people is
often underestimated. There is also a powerful secular tradition in Iraq
that transcends all religions and sects.
U.S. and British mainstream commentators were confidently predicting that
large-scale attacks by Shia against Sunnis would be unavoidable after the
downfall of Saddam�s regime. To their embarrassment and dismay, millions of
Iraqis--of all sects and none--marched in the streets, denouncing the
occupation and chanting �La Shia, La Sunna, hatha al-balad menbi�a� (�No
Shia or Sunni, this country we shall not sell�).
It was also noticeable that people from most parts of Iraq were collecting
aid for the peoples of Najaf, Falluja and Sadr City while the U.S. and
British media were busy peddling sectarian myths.
On the historical tribal roots, it has also to be stressed that nearly all
Iraqi tribes have Sunni and Shia �branches� within them. These traditional
tribal links, though much weaker now than tens of decades ago, have also
militated against any sectarian conflicts.
While recognizing that if something didn�t happen in the past doesn�t mean
it will not happen in the future, it is important to also recognize that
sectarian centrifugal forces--whether in the socio-economic or ideological
fields--are particularly weak within Iraq.
One of the main reasons for this is that �Iraqi� identity has deep roots
that go much further back than the foundation of the modern Iraqi state. In
modern Iraq, working-class struggles and national anti-colonial and
anti-imperialist uprisings have often engulfed the whole of Iraq, cementing
This integration also applies to ties between Arabs and Kurds. There are,
for example, more Kurds in Baghdad than any city in the whole of Kurdistan.
However, Saddam�s mass murders and chauvinist policies and the manipulation
of these policies by the U.S. and Britain since 1991 have created greater
political separation between Kurdish and non-Kurdish political forces in
Iraq. The decline of the Iraqi Communist Party--which used to be in the late
1950s and 1960s the most powerful mass-based political force throughout
Iraq--has also weakened the strong political unity that existed between
Arabs and Kurds.
However, it is my assessment that this estrangement is of a temporary nature
and that the underlying commonality of interests among the nationalities in
Iraq and the wider Middle East will reassert themselves.
What will also reassert itself is the irreconcilable contradiction between
the interests of U.S. imperialist policies and those of the Kurdish people
in Iraq, Turkey and Iran. In 1975, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
masterminded and mediated an agreement between Saddam and the Shah of Iran
that was specifically directed at crushing the Kurdish nationalist movement,
then led by Mustafa Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
Kissinger�s 1975 maneuver will sooner or later also inform U.S. policies
towards the Kurdish people in a contemporary context. The U.S.
administration, for example, is already keen on getting the agreement of the
Iraqi Kurdish groups to cooperate with the Turkish government to crush the
Kurdistan Workers� Party in Turkish Kurdistan.
SOME VOICES in the antiwar movement propose that we withhold support for the
resistance in Iraq because we disagree with their politics. What do you
THERE HAS always been disagreement with the programs, politics and tactics
of resistance movements. This was true of Albania, France, Algeria, Kenya,
Cyprus, Vietnam and many others. This is also true of Palestine and Iraq
My view is that one has to start from the principled position of opposing
occupation and conquest, whether of the colonial or imperialist variety--and
of supporting the struggle of the peoples for liberation. As a socialist, I
would naturally be delighted if these struggles are led by socialist
movements. But that is for the people in struggle to decide.
Nor should the absence of such strong socialist movements be used as an
argument to absolve socialists of their internationalist duty and
fundamental task of backing the struggle against imperialist policies of
hegemony and wars of aggression.
Criticism of and dialogue with all movements in struggle is obviously
essential. But to withhold support from the people�s resistance to
occupation because one disagrees with some of its sections or even of its
leadership would seriously damage the worldwide struggle against imperialist
Also, one has to be also vigilant and take a dose of anti-imperialist
immunity, because the mainstream media�s constant attempts to portray the
resistance movements as a bunch of murderers is bound to affect us.
This is particularly so if we do not have easy access to alternative sources
of news and analysis. I find my knowledge of other countries seriously
colored by the mainstream media until I have access to those country�s
authentic voices. Even on Iraq, with a fast-developing situation, I find
that even a few day�s detachment from sources emanating from Iraq colors my
view of the situation if I only have access to the mainstream media.
The repetition of mantras and the drip-drip effect of intensive and
prolonged media coverage can have serious influence on our view of the
world. The Sunni-Shia �conflict� is one such manta that has become so
dominant that it has crept into antiwar and socialist analyses of Iraq.
The class basis of some of these issues is completely ignored, with no
understanding that the top merchants of Najaf and Karbala and Baghdad take a
very different view of the conflict in Iraq than the workers, students and
unemployed of those cities--regardless of their sect. There is, for example,
a failure to see the class distinction between those supporting the Shia
cleric Moktada al-Sadr and those backing other Shia clerics. As the conflict
escalates, this distinction will prove very important and undermine any
notion of a deep Sunni-Shia divide.
A false and damaging distinction is sometimes made between �purely�
working-class activity--trade unions, for example--in an occupied country
like Iraq and the general struggle to end imperialist occupation and
domination. The struggle of the peoples against occupation and for
liberation is part and parcel of the struggle of the working people in Iraq,
the U.S., Europe and the whole world for a better future--a future in which
wars of aggression, exploitation of human labor for the benefit of the few
and the destruction of the earth�s environment are eliminated.
Without active international solidarity, particularly of the American
people, the Iraqi and other peoples will not be able to achieve liberation
from occupation and war. Nor will that brighter future be possible.
> From: Ksholl@...---snip---
> To: NoIraqWar@yahoogroups.com
> Subject: [NoIraqWar] Some Just Voted for Food (Iraq)
> Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 20:21:10 -0500
> Karen thought you would like this site.
> Some Just Voted for Food
> By Dahr Jamail
> Inter Press Service
> Monday 31 January 2005