Triumph and Tragedy, by Fisk, Margolis, Porto Alegre
- 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
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
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
"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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