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

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Irish Times tells it like it is...


Insurgency will go on after misleading poll

The recent Iraqi elections were no exercise in democracy, writes Richard Boyd Barrett

Last Sunday's elections in Iraq were hailed by the US as a "historic" step towards freedom. This is another fiction from the people who brought us "weapons of mass destruction".

The claim of a 59 per cent turnout was deliberately misleading. The figure is based on 14 million registered voters, not the estimated 18 million eligible voters. This means real turnout was about 44 per cent of the eligible. High voter abstention is confirmed by the poll figures for Iraqis living abroad. About two million were eligible to vote, but only 280,000 registered and 265,000 actually voted.

Altogether, 70 political parties and millions of Iraqis boycotted the poll. In the mostly Sunni central provinces, the boycott was overwhelming. The US described the levelling of Falluja last October as "preparation" for elections. About 3,000 people were killed, including 500 children; 200,000 were made refugees and the city was flattened. No wonder so many Iraqis rejected such "democracy".

The insurgency in Iraq is a response to the brutality of the occupation. Figures from Iraq's Health Ministry show occupation forces caused 60 per cent of civilian deaths in Iraq since July 2004. This is on top of an estimated 100,000 dead as a result of the invasion. In Falluja, there were no attacks on US troops until mid-April 2003 when marines killed 13 unarmed protesters.

In a recent report in the Economist, a US marine commander in Ramadi told a journalist, "If anyone gets too close to us, we f***ing waste them. It's a kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people."

So, the recent terrible killing of two Iraqi parents, in front of their six children, at a US army checkpoint was not an isolated event.

The insurgency and opposition to the election is strongest in the mostly Sunni provinces because US forces and operations are concentrated there but is not confined to Sunnis. It exists across Iraq.

All polls since early 2004 show 70-80 per cent of Iraqis - Sunni and Shia - want the US to get out. The popular Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, who led an uprising against the US last April, also boycotted the elections. Most insurgent attacks are in Baghdad which is two-thirds Shia. Recent heavy fighting in Tal Afar was between US forces and Shia Turkoman insurgents.

Most Shia voted because Ayatollah Sistani, the most senior Shia cleric in Iraq, said elections could help end the US occupation. But, critically, the Sunni and Shia population are united in opposing the US presence.

Media focus on religious identity and the possibility of sectarian conflict in Iraq also ignores very substantial secular, left and nationalist traditions. Only 8 per cent of Iraqis believe a civil war between Sunni and Shia likely. Many Iraqis believe the US is talking up divisions to justify the occupation and undermine the growing insurgency.

A Newsweek report suggested the US is now planning to train local paramilitary groups to use against insurgents as they did in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s. John Negroponte, the man credited with co-ordinating the actions in Latin America, is now the top US official in Iraq. The US has already used Shia and Kurds in assaults on places such as Falluja in efforts to stir up religious and ethnic differences.

Dirty tricks are a sign of growing US desperation. Desertions of US soldiers are rising fast, as is public concern about US casualties. Iraq's intelligence director estimates that 200,000 people are active in the insurgency. Asked recently, if insurgents were winning, he replied: "They're not losing."

Shia and Sunni leaders differed over the tactical approach to the elections but this is unlikely to dent the determination of both to remove the US presence.

There was no independent international monitoring of last Sunday's poll or the count. The US-based Carter Centre said the elections did not meet the criteria for a free and fair election. The voting system meant voters didn't know who the candidates were - one poll showed only 7 per cent knowledge of candidates, and parties with lots of US money behind them had a huge advantage. The new assembly and government is likely to look much the same as the old interim governing council.

In any event, the new assembly will have little power. The US will still control Iraq's oil revenues through the Development Fund for Iraq. Multimillion dollar contracts signed by Paul Bremer with US corporations will be binding on the new "government".

The Paris Club has agreed to forgive 80 per cent of Iraq's debts as long as it signs up to a structural adjustment programme. This includes eliminating the monthly free food basket for every Iraqi family. Crucially, Condoleezza Rice says the 150,000 US troops "will remain until Iraqis can do the job."

With most Iraqi's wanting them out now, this guarantees bloodshed in Iraq will continue and escalate.

On Friday, February 11th, at 8 p.m. in the ATGWU Hall, Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, Hani Lazim of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation will give an Iraqi view on President Bush's version of freedom in his country. On March 19th, cities across the world will march to call for an end to the US occupation as the only way to bring real freedom to Iraq. In Dublin, we will also call on Bertie Ahern to get the US military out of Shannon. That will be a real exercise in democracy.

Richard Boyd Barrett is chairman of the Irish Anti-War Movement.

© The Irish Times