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Triumph and Tragedy, by Fisk, Margolis, Porto Alegre

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  • Ed Pearl
    Low level of Sunni participation tarnishes success of large poll turnout By Robert Fisk 01/31/05 The Star -- Baghdad -
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2005
      Low level of Sunni participation tarnishes success of
      large poll turnout

      By Robert Fisk

      01/31/05 "The Star" -- Baghdad - Even as the explosions
      thundered over Baghdad, they came in their hundreds,
      and then in their thousands. Entire families, crippled
      old men supported by their sons, children beside them,
      babies in the arms of their mothers.

      The Shi'ite Muslims of Baghdad yesterday walked quietly
      to polling stations, to the Martyr Mohamed Bakr Hakim
      School in Jadriya, without talking, through the
      car-less streets, the air pressure changing around them
      as mortars rained down on the US and British embassy
      compounds and the first of the day's suicide bombers
      immolated himself and his victims, most of them
      Shi'ites, 3km away.

      The Kurds voted, in their tens of thousands, but the
      Sunnis - 20% of Iraq's population, whose insurgency was
      the principal reason for this election - boycotted or
      were intimidated from the pollingstations.

      The turnout figure, estimated at perhaps 72% of Iraq's
      15-million registered voters, represented both victory
      and tragedy. For while the Shi'ites voted in their
      millions with immense courage, the Sunni voice remained
      silent, casting into semi-illegitimacy the National
      Assembly whose existence is supposed to provide the US
      with a political excuse to extricate itself from its
      little Vietnam in the Middle East.

      And yes, there was the violence we all expected. There
      were nine suicide bombers in Baghdad - the largest
      number ever to have killed themselves on a single day
      anywhere in the Middle East.

      An American mercenary and a US soldier were among the
      first to die when mortars exploded across the
      American-appointed administration buildings in central
      Baghdad. Then more than 20 voters were cut down. Before
      dusk came news that a Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules
      transport aircraft had crashed en route to the largely
      insurgent-held city of Balad. Inall, almost 50 people
      were killed across Iraq.

      But it was the sight of those thousands of Shi'ites,
      the women mostly in black hejab covering, the men in
      leather jackets or long robes, the children toddling
      beside them, that took the breath away. If Osama bin
      Laden had called these elections an apostasy, these
      people, who represent 60% of Iraq, did not heed his

      They came to claim their rightful power in the land -
      that is why Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the grand marja
      of the Shi'ites of Iraq, told them to vote - and woe
      betide the Americans and British if they do not get it.
      For if this election produces a parliamentary coalition
      which splits the Shi'ites and turns their largest party
      into the opposition, then the Sunni insurgency will
      become a national uprising.

      "I came here," said a young man in the Jadriya polling
      station, "because our grand marja told us that voting
      today was more important than prayer and fasting."

      An older man beamedwith delight. "My name is
      Abdul-Rudha Abu Mohamed and I am so happy today," he
      said. "They must elect a president from us and we must
      be one with all Iraqis - and we must have justice."

      Even the local election agent was close to tears. Taleb
      Ibrahim admitted that he had participated in Saddam
      Hussein's one-man elections but that this day marked
      the moment when the Shi'ites of Iraq, after refusing to
      take revenge on their Ba'athist oppressors, would show
      their magnanimity.

      Even if the Sunnis were boycotting the poll, he said,
      "there is an old saying that if the father becomes
      angry, we will have no problems with his sons. We will
      make sure that these sons - the Sunnis - have equal
      rights with us."

      Across Baghdad, it was the same story; entire families
      moved as one towards the polling stations while the air
      rang with explosions. Just after voting started, there
      were 30 detonations in the city in less than two
      minutes - but still they came as if on a familyday out.

      Bombs are now heartbeats in Iraq, and we could hear the
      thump of explosions even above the low-flying American
      Apache choppers. Yet along the empty roads, neighbours
      stopped to talk and show each other the indelible ink
      on their index fingers that officials used to ensure
      there were no double votes.

      It was both the safest and the most dangerous of days.

      At one polling station, I asked the first of the young
      Iraqi soldiers who were to check us - all wore black
      woollen face masks so that they could not be identified
      - if he was frightened.

      "It doesn't matter," he said.

      "I am ready to die for this day. We have got to vote."

      Seven hours later I talked to him again and he, too,
      had the indelible ink on his finger. "It's like you can
      change your future or your faith," he said.

      "We only had military coups and revolutions before. We
      voted 'yes' or 'yes'. Now we vote for ourselves."

      It was easy to imbibe the falseoptimism of the Western
      television networks and the nonsense about Iraq's
      "historic" day - for it will only have been historic if
      it changes this country, and many fear that it will

      No one I met yesterday believes the insurgency will end
      - many thought it would grow more ferocious - and the
      Shi'ites in the polling stations said with one voice
      that they were also voting to rid Iraq of the
      Americans, not to legitimise their presence.

      This is a message that the Americans and British will
      ignore at their peril.

      On Baghdad's streets yesterday, the Americans deployed
      thousands of troops, most of them trying to show some
      respect for the people, watching them rather than
      threatening them with their rifles, which is how they
      usually behave in the dangerous capital.

      A certain Captain Buchanan from Arkansas even ventured
      a political thought. "It's a pity the Sunnis aren't
      voting - it's their loss."

      But of course it is also Iraq's loss and theShi'ites'
      loss too - and possibly America's loss. For without
      that vital minority component, who will believe in the
      new parliament or the constitution it is supposed to
      produce or the next government it is supposed to

      I asked a Sunni Muslim security guard what he thought
      would be the future of his country.

      He had not voted - in many Sunni cities only a third of
      the polling stations opened - but he had thought a lot
      about this question.

      "You cannot give us 'democracy' just like this. This is
      one of your Western, foreign dreams," he said. "Before,
      we had Saddam and he was a cruel man and he treated us
      cruelly. But what will happen after this election is
      that you will give us lots of little Saddams."

      (c)2005 The Star & Independent Online

      See also an interview with Robert Fisk by Amy Goodman
      from Democracy Now.



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      Toronto Sun January 30, 2005

      Real freedom still far off

      By Eric Margolis -- Contributing Foreign Editor

      Will today's elections for 7,785 unknown candidates in violence-racked
      Iraq mark the dawn of genuine Mideast democracy, as U.S. President
      George W. Bush claims, or be another step deeper into the bloody
      quagmire in Mesopotamia?

      First, no election held under a foreign military occupation resulting from
      an unjustified war is legal under international law. During the Cold War,
      elections staged by the Soviets after invading Afghanistan, Hungary and
      Czechoslovakia were rightly denounced by the U.S. as "frauds" and the
      leaders elected as "stooges."

      Second, Shiites, excluded from political power since Britain created Iraq in
      1921, will win since they represent 60% of the population. Shiite Grand
      Ayatollah Ali Sistani issued a fatwa, or religious decree, ordering the
      faithful to vote for the Shiites' coalitions.

      Sistani made what some see as a pact with the devil. He is abetting
      at least temporary U.S. occupation and exploitation of oil-rich Iraq in
      exchange for Washington handing power to his fellow "good" Shiites --
      not to be confused with Iran's "bad" Shiites, who are facing U.S.-Israeli
      attack. "Good" Shiites don't sport turbans; they sideline clerics and avoid
      angry Islamic mutterings.

      Iraq's pro-U.S. Kurds will elect their own coalitions determined to keep
      their oil revenues and create a state independent in all but name.

      Sunnis have lost all the power and perks they previously enjoyed, they lead
      resistance against U.S. occupation. They will be the odd men out, at the
      mercy of the hated Shiites, a sect long persecuted by mainstream Sunni
      Muslims as dangerous heretics and fanatics.

      Third, the U.S.-"guided" regime emerging from the vote will be one of form
      without much substance, unless a new Shiite regime revolts and asserts its

      For now, Iraq's real government will continue to be the U.S. Embassy in
      Baghdad, the world's largest, and 150,000 U.S. occupation troops.

      Every important Iraqi ministry is run by U.S. "advisers" who call the shots
      and allocate all spending. Power comes from guns and money. The U.S.
      controls and pays Iraq's low-morale police and native troops who, in a
      nation with 70% unemployment, mostly serve to feed families.

      Vote to end misery

      Iraq's entire budget comes from sporadic oil exports and U.S.-dispensed
      aid (the latest bill for Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: $240 billion

      Many Iraqis will vote for anyone promising to end violence and social
      misery. But just as many nationalists and Islamists, excluded from the
      election process, are voting their own way -- with bullets and bombs.
      Washington calls them "terrorists," but the UN Charter enshrines people's
      right to resist foreign occupation.

      A "Muslim-lite" turbanless Shiite regime allied to Washington will
      immediately have to face Kurdish secessionists and Sunni insurgents.
      Younger, more nationalistic Shiites with connections to Tehran will try to
      oust the "quietist" collaborationist Sistani faction once Shiites are firmly
      in power. More, rather than less, violence is likely, with Sistani a prime
      bomb target.

      Iraq, like Humpty Dumpty, is broken and may never be put together. That's
      fine with the Bush administration's pro-Israel hawks who engineered this
      war. A shattered Iraq will never challenge Israel's nuclear monopoly.

      But not fine for the U.S. A senior commander just warned that 130,000
      U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until at least 2007, maybe much longer.
      Iraqization, like Vietnamization, has proved a chimera. So, too, plans to
      plunder Iraq's oil. Meanwhile Pentagon brass are livid over neo-con plans
      to launch a new war against Israel's principal enemy, Iran.

      This "guided" election is Bush's best last chance to declare a titanic
      victory, then bring all his troops home to a big ticker-tape parade before
      Iraq dissolves into bloody chaos or is taken over by Iran. Otherwise, the
      U.S. will be stuck forever to its Iraqi tar baby, ruing the day it overthrew
      old ally, Saddam.

      A truly independent regime will eventually emerge in Baghdad when the
      U.S. finally runs low on money, men and crusading will power.

      We'll know for sure real freedom has dawned in Iraq when Baghdad orders
      U.S. troops out, raises oil prices, rebuilds its armed forces, and renews
      support for the Palestinian cause.



      'Elections' dismissed as illegitimate

      Anti-War movement calls for massive protests to end war in Iraq on March

      Porto Alegre, Brazil (January 30) -- On the day of the elections in Iraq,
      anti-war movements from around the world today called for a Global Day of
      Action against the war in Iraq this coming March 19-20.

      The call was the resolution of an Anti-War Assembly held as part of the
      World Social Forum, an annual gathering of anti-globalization and anti-war
      activists that this year drew over 100,000 participants.

      "There have been ups and downs since then but this assembly marks the
      revival of the anti-war movement," said Walden Bello, executive director of
      Focus on the Global South and one of the main organizers of the assembly.

      The assembly was attended by around 300 anti-war campaigners from over 33
      countries, including Iraq. Most of the participants were from groups behind
      the massive worldwide demonstrations against the war on Iraq last February
      15, 2003.

      "We are determined to say that 2005 will be the year that we will end the
      occupation," said Medea Benjamin of the United for Peace and Justice, the
      largest anti-war coalition in the United States with over 1,000 member

      "World public opinion is in our favor," pointed out Chris Nineham of the
      UK's Stop the War Coalition, the group that organized the massive
      one-million strong march in London. "There is more opposition to the war now
      than even on February 15."

      As of last count, demonstrations are being planned in 29 countries -
      including in in Iraq. More are expected to follow as the call is circulated
      among anti-war networks in the coming weeks.

      The anti-war activists also downplayed the impact of the elections in Iraq.
      "These stage-managed elections are illegitimate to the core," pointed out
      Bello. "The world will not fall for this ploy."

      One participant who came all the way from Baghdad, Sheik Jawad Khalisi, a
      leader of a broad coalition of anti-occupation Iraqi political groups --
      including both Sunnis and Shiites, Islamic and secular ones -- also
      dismissed the elections.

      Khalisi is considered one of the most influential leaders in Iraq today. A
      Shiite religious leaders from Khadamiya district in Baghdad, he is the son
      of one of the Iraqi heroes who led the resistance against the British
      occupation in the 1920s.

      "George Bush had already determined the results of these elections even
      before the day of the voting," Khalisi said. "These elections are not
      elections for the Iraqi people, but for George Bush."

      Khalisi claimed that - based on the information they have in Baghdad - a
      very significant percentage of Iraqis decided to boycott the elections. He
      noted that in five provinces, including Mosul, Diyala, and Ramadi, more than
      90% of eligible voters decided to boycott the elections. In seven other
      provinces, the boycott rate was around 70%

      Khalisi also pointed out that out of Iraq's 1,200,000 eligible voters, only
      100,000 actually registered. Even less of them could have actually voted.

      Khalisi believes that the violence will not end even with the elections.
      "The violence will stop only when Iraq is liberated from the occupying
      powers," he said.

      "Violence will continue because the main instigators of the violence are the
      occupation forces," Bello added.

      He pointed out that of the 100,000 Iraqis that have been killed in the war,
      most of them died at the hands of the coalition forces. "The more resistance
      they face, the more brutal they will get," Bello said.

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