Election Primer: four letters, starts with “I”

While elections may be newsworthy in both Iowa and Iran of late, it’s the lack of elections in Iraq that’s generating all sorts of press these days.
Here’s one primer, courtesy of Dilip Hiro, in the February 2, 2004 issue of The Nation. As American presidential candidates begin to discuss “planting the seeds of democracy” and ponder the status of United States-led plans for a “post-Saddam” Iraq, bear the following in mind:

“This internecine power struggle is being conducted under the hegemony of the US occupiers, who have their own scenario of the New Iraq: secular, democratic, unabashedly capitalist and openly tied to Washington politically (with its government committed in advance to welcoming US military bases), economically (with unfettered access to Iraqi oil) and strategically (as a pressure point against the regimes in Iran and Syria).
Washington’s vision is a nightmare to most Sunni and Shiite Arabs. Militant Sunnis, imbued with Iraqi nationalism, are in the forefront of the continuing armed resistance. So far Shiites, three-fifths of Iraq’s population, have generally been quiescent, hoping to emerge as the leading political force by exercising their franchise. But even as early as last April, some 1.5 million Shiites marched to Karbala to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein (martyred in AD 680), shouting, “No, no to America! Yes, yes to Islam!” At Hussein’s shrine, a deputy of Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani declared, “Our celebration will be perfect only when the American occupier is gone and the Iraqi people are able to rule themselves by the principles of Islam.” Recent demonstrations in the Shiite cities of Basra, Amara and Kut are symptomatic of rising Shiite discontent against Anglo-American occupation.
In the wake of the dissolution of the Sunni-dominated Baath Party, the Shiites are now the most organized community, led by the redoubtable Sistani. In June he issued a religious decree that only directly elected bodies have the right to administer Iraq or draft its Constitution; he reiterated this demand on January 11. In between he stated that he wants clerics to act as watchdogs to insure that Iraqi legislation does not contradict Islam, and he has disapproved of the way the Coalition Provisional Authority and its handpicked IGC altered laws on nationality and foreign investment, both of which impinge on Islamic principles. He has pointedly refused to meet CPA chief Paul Bremer.”

Well, that doesn’t bode well for American plans for a non-Islamic fundamentalist Iraq. And, were there to be democratically-held elections, with 56 percent of the nation’s voters expressing support for a Sistani-styled government, it would certainly be embarrassing for the Bush administration to have sponsored the creation of an Islamic nation built on this Iranian paradigm, what with all of the President’s talk over the past few months of human rights and feminism and democratic principles.

“The only way Bremer can counterbalance the power of Shiites is by co-opting the Sunnis (which has proved next to impossible) and getting them to coalesce with the Kurds. But while Kurds are 95 percent Sunni, they identify themselves first and foremost on ethnic, not sectarian, grounds.And their leaders have been no more eager to form an alliance with the Shiites. Powerful Shiite clerics would most likely oppose Kurdish demands for a federated Iraq, on the ground that in Islam there are different sects but not different ethnic groups.

All talk of “fuzzy math” aside, there is no mathematical way these numbers can lead to any sort of positive scenario for the American architects of the war in Iraq, at least while adhering to respected, internationally-sanctioned principles of democratic behavior. You know, that old adage about “one person, one vote.” In this vein, Monday’s papers documented a day-long march by almost 100,000 Iraqi Shiites in support of Ayatollah Sistani and his vision for an Iraq governed according to tenets of Islamic law.

“American helicopters buzzed overhead as an announcer with a bullhorn urged the marchers onward. ‘Say yes, yes to elections and no, no to appointing the people in any way other than elections,’ he said.”

Admittedly, the protester’s refrain isn’t nearly as catchy as, say, “Hey hey, ho ho, the appointed council’s got to go,” or the even less popular, “Hey hey, it’s time, we Shiites have such scorn for rhyme,” but like all works of translation, the announcer’s cry was better in the original, I’m sure.