"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Irish Times and the elections

Dear Sir/Madam,

The Irish Times has refered more than several times to the recent elections in Iraq as "free" and "democratic", but while I commend your resistance in not refering to them this way in every report (prefering to describe them simply as "elections" or "national elections"), this type of reporting is extremely misleading.

Conor O'Clery reported "Poll success eclipses past blunders for US,
Iraq's election has fuelled the feeling that the corner may have been

"The elections in Iraq have justified the political expectations of those who demanded they be held to establish democratic legitimacy for the transition to self-rule from the US-led coalition which invaded and occupied the country in March 2003."

(opinion 1/2/05)

As Le Monde notes, George W. Bush's obstinacy paid off and "it would be difficult, even indecent, to reproach him for having given free elections to the Iraqis".

"Last week we had no idea how passionately attached to the notion of democracy the people of Iraq would be..."


"No, I don't expect most people in Ireland to be relieved at the success of the Iraqi elections, or to feel pride at the unbelievable courage of Iraqis trooping through the dust of their battered cities to cast their ballots, and if need be, to die in the process. In Ireland, visceral anti-Americanism rules OK. Two-thirds of Irish people are opposed to US troops landing in Shannon en route for Iraq without UN authorisation, and even with authorisation, a majority is opposed to the Shannon halt. In effect, they prefer Saddam.

I take a slightly different line. I backed the US troops going into Iraq; and, better still, I will back them as they finally head homeward, mission accomplished, with peace growing in the country they helped make free, and at such a heavy price."

(Kevin Myers 2/2/05)

The reality is that these elections were neither free or democratic:

"Only around 90 out of 330 intended polling centres in the province actually opened, Mr Rashid admitted, although even those had to be staffed with monitors from Baghdad and the south, apparently because locals were afraid to work in the stations.

According to election officials, many polling centres were kept closed on the recommendation of Iraqi security or US military forces, whether or not any violence occurred nearby."

Financial Times

"44 people were killed in a total of 38 bomb attacks on polling stations."


“Monitoring is a big problem. There won't be any international observation mechanism,” said one UN diplomat. “The UN is not willing. No one is willing. No one wants to send their people there.”


“The fact that security in Iraq is so bad that no one will go to observe the elections suggests that even if they pass without incident, they have failed.

“Elections whose results are not believed are worse than no elections at all. If, when results come out, there is a dispute, and there is no way of resolving that impartially, there is a great danger that instead of resolving political tensions in Iraq it will create them.”

Financial Times

"in Iraq, where 14 million people are eligible to vote, the elections next week may have only one outsider from the hastily organized International Mission for Iraqi Elections to evaluate the balloting. If reluctant governments change their minds at the last minute about letting their officials go to Iraq, a handful of others may show up. But, even then, none is likely to tour polling stations or to be publicly identified, mission and U.S. officials said."

Washington Post

"Approximately eight million people turned out to vote in Iraq. International monitors gave the election their seal of approval, though all 129 of them stayed inside Baghdad's Green Zone. [The New York Times] Security measures included sealing the country's borders, banning travel between provinces, prohibiting private vehicle traffic, and imposing curfews in cities."


"Iraqi insurgents, who had been promising death to anyone who came within five hundred yards of a polling station, [The New York Times] succeeded in carrying out nine suicide bombings, one of which was performed by a handicapped child. [Associated Press]"


"International journalists were limited to five polling stations in Baghdad , four of which were in Shi'a districts with expected high turnout. The U.S.-backed election commission in Iraq originally announced a 72% participation immediately after the polls closed, then downscaled that to "near 60%" - actually claiming about 57% turn-out. But those figures are all still misleading. The Washington Post reported (two days after the vote, on page 7 of the Style section) that the 60% figure is based on the claim that 8 million out of 14 million eligible Iraqis turned out. But the 14 million figure itself is misleading, because it only includes those registered Iraqis, not the 18 million actually eligible voters. Similarly, the claim of very high voter participation among Iraqi exiles is misleading, since only 280,000 or so Iraqis abroad even registered, out of about 1.2 million qualified to register and vote."


ITN's Julian Manyon on CNN International's programInternational Correspondents:

"MANYON: . . . I mean, we've got a situation in Mosul, for example, where American troops, we now discover because the Iraqi employees of the election organization have deserted en masse, it's American soldiers who will be transporting the ballot boxes around when they are full of votes. This is really very far from ideal, and if it were happening in any other country -- I mean, one could mention Ukraine, for example -- there would be a wild chorus of international protest ("Media Coverage of Iraq," January 29, 2005, 21:00:00 ET)"


"BAGHDAD, Jan 31 (IPS) - 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.


"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."

(International Press Service)

"Iraq's crunch election has been marred by irregularities and low turnout in Mosul, despite insistence from the US military that voting in the restive northern capital passed off smoothly."

ABC News

"The United Iraqi Alliance, identifying only 37 of their 225 candidates, explained: "We offer apologies for not mentioning the names of all the candidates ... We have to keep them alive.""


"Bush declared it a "resounding success", while Blair asserted that "The force of freedom was felt throughout Iraq". And yet the election fell so completely short of accepted electoral standards that had it been held in, say, Zimbabwe or Syria, Britain and America would have been the first to denounce it."


"Polling stations in several towns in Iraq have not five hours after nationwide voting started on Sunday, the countries electorial commission said."


and from your own reports:

"Fears are running so high that most candidates are keeping their names secret, and officials are trying to withhold the location of voting centres to prevent attacks on election day."

(The Irish Times)

"The conditions in which they are being held are deeply flawed by a violent insurgency directed against the occupying forces led by the United States and the interim Iraqi government it appointed last year. This makes it extremely dangerous to vote in several key provinces and has prevented parties from campaigning effectively."

(The Irish Times)

By refering to these elections as democratic/free or fair one simply maintains the Official US military line, which is unfounded and serves only to justify an Illegal war in which over 100,000 Iraqi people have died.

Recently The Irish Times reported in-depth the less recent elections in the Ukraine.

"A total of 1,300 monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are on the ground, along with more than 7,000 more unofficial international monitors and thousands more local activists."

(27/12/04 Alevtyna Lyubymova in and Chris Stephen)

"NATO and Russia have together called for a free and fair election in Ukraine after weeks of tension between Western capitals and Moscow over presidential poll results."

(21/12/04 Chris Stephen)

"There have been many reports of dirty tricks, irregularly subsidised campaigning and media manipulation, as well as strong involvement of well-known Russian, European and US figures."

(opinion 29/10/04)

"Ukraine's Supreme Court yesterday blocked the inauguration as president of the Prime Minister, Mr Viktor Yanukovich, agreeing to opposition calls for an investigation into claims of massive fraud in last Sunday's elections."

(26/11/04 Chris Stephen in Kiev and Denis Staunton in Brussels)

It is obvious from these reports that "we" require different standards for different elections or maybe different electorate.

President Bush has repeated many times since the elections in Iraq that "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," (Bush told reporters at the White House) . A view that he does not extend to the latest victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. His ninth consecutive electoral victory in six years. This begs the question, are elections only "free, fair and democratic" if there is US approval?

It is a fair presumption that if democratic decisions were to be made, a withdrawal of US forces would be made a requirement by the newly elected "leaders" as popular opinion in Iraq is aganist US occupation.

"Elections are the best way to expel the occupier from Iraq."
- Banners in Shi'ite mosques in Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala and Samarra
(quoted in Pepe Escobar's "It's celebration time", Asia Times, 29/01/2005)

From The Irish times:
You assert:

"Most of those who voted were clear about one thing: the desire to regain control over their own political destiny."

(opinion 1/2/05)

The US-led occupation remains extremely unpopular, and many voters cast ballots in the hope of driving the Americans out through peaceful means.

(opinion Lara Marlowe 1/2/05)


The US administration has made it abundently clear that a US military withdrawal is not in the foreseeable future:

"Donald Rumsfeld, the US defense secretary, said on Thursday that the completion of successful elections in Iraq was unlikely to lead to a decrease in violence.

Mr Rumsfeld said he doubted that the election would change the minds of extremists who have been mounting the insurgency against the US-led coalition forces since last year. “I expect that level of violence and insurgency to continue,” Mr Rumsfeld, who last year described the insurgents as a few “dead-enders”, said at a press briefing."

Financial Times

"The Shi'ites may be on the brink of power after 14 centuries. Their premier electoral promise - later reneged - was to negotiate a total American withdrawal. If now their strategy is a "wait and see" - let's train Iraqi forces to fight the Sunni resistance and then we negotiate the American withdrawal - they may be in for a rude shock and awe."

Asia Times Online

US President George Bush has rejected calls to set a specific timetable for pulling the roughly 150,000 US troops from Iraq.

"That (a timetable) would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out," Bush said in his State of the Union address late on Wednesday.


The Iraqi people have been misled into thinking they control their own futures. Of course the images of Iraqi people bearing their inked fingers to western cameras is a historic and momentus occasion, but it was quite obvious that a substantial turnout was in order. For the first time in their history, the Iraqi people were given the impression that they were the makers of their own destiny. Even the threat of death, to a people made so familiar with the concept over the last year, could not stop a large portion of them leaving the relative safety of their rubble homes and voting for a candidate. What is forgotten to mention, is that, other than eight million voters Iraq had a day much the same as any other. Some people were blown up, some were shot, some recieved no medical attention, some recieved no food, some had no access to water or electricity and none of this had any bearing on the outcome, apparently. The fact is, it is far to early to tell if this election will make any significant difference for the people of Iraq. With the past our only sign of whats to come, the future looks violent and military in nature.

Consider "a govt appointed by the military occupiers, guilty of torturing its own people, employing arbitrary arrest and detention, assassination squads, wholesale destruction of towns and cities in pursuit of "counter-terror", press represssion and assorted other assaults on basic liberties, this govt organizes elections with hardly any independent international observers present." (themos medialens reader)

Under these conditions do you consider it responsible journalism to refer to elections in Iraq as either "free" or "democratic"?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,