[Marxism] Iraq: "A poll governed by fear," by Patrick Cockburn
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Dec 20 20:21:45 MST 2004
I am including Mark Jensen's comments because his summaries are useful
and he is an acute observer.
Cockburn's article highlights the Shia leadership's "adventure" in
attempting to take office in these circumstances. The agreement to
support continuing Allawi as prime minister indicates the terms on which
Washington would accept their electoral victory. This may not happen
if the Shia slate wins a direct majority, but I suspect the US plan is
to prevent this by any means necessary. The aim is to force the Shia
bourgeoisie to defend the US occupation by supporting the US war, in the
name of defending the Shia from Sunni attacks -- that is to accept the
assignment of turning the currently purely national war into a civil war
as the price of getting a Shia majority in the parliament.
That means the Shia majority will probably fall apart, but a decision by
the official Shia leadership to buy into civil war with the Sunni (a
decision I am convinced has not been made and will meet substantial
opposition) will advance the US fallback position of dividing Iraq into
three: (Kurdistan, which is really a separate nation in all but name,
and whose people have no attraction to ties with Iraq except to guard
against Turkish-Iranian-Syrian invasion; the Shia regions, which have
almost all the oil not in Kurdistan; and the landlocked and largely
oil-free Sunni areas.
Its not a stupid plan and I have never thought Bush was a stupid man,
but I am very hopeful that it will not work. The idea is to create
Sunni-Shia conflicts so intense that they provide an international and
Iraqi legitmacy for permanent US occupation (possibly through withdrawal
to the dozen or so permanent bases being constructed).
As I have mentioned, continuing the anti-occupation struggle without
regard to elections -- as opposed the US strategy of making the
elections the focus of the struggle at the present -- is the best way to
counter this. And I am convinced that there are forces in the Iraqi
resistance -- and not weak ones -- who get this or are capable of
getting this as a way of preventing a substantial weakening of the
resistance. (Part of the issue is the ability to recognize the
disappearance of the old Sunni domination of Arab Iraq, which is simply
something that has already happened and cannot be unhappened, and that
the real or de facto independence of Kurdistan is a fact of life.)
The Iraq struggle is not about chaos -- chaos was brought by the
occupation, not the resistance. They destroyed an order that was
functional although unjust, and have replaced it with chaos -- no
medical care, no real education, no jobs. Frankly, I think Bush is more
realistic than Cockburn believes in his read of the situation in Iraq,
and so is Blair. Remember Bush's statement about Afghanistan, that the
aim was to create "chaos, a vacuum" as a step forward for the
imperialists relative to the order that existed under the Taliban, an
order that, while having little to recommend it to us, challenged their
interests on a number of fronts -- including collaboration with Bin
Laden. This is what US imperialism is reduced to in part, because of its
weakening world economy -- chaos as a lesser evil to rule by its
enemies. They do not fear chaos, they fear any kind of revolutionary or
Bush's statements about chaos and vacuums were taken by liberals as
madness, but they represent part of the real situation of the
imperialist ruling classes in today's world. Doesn't imperialism have
to defend the growing chaos, arising out of the anarchy of their system
-- chaos in Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kosovo,
the former Soviet bloc, and so many other places -- against those like
Chavez, Castro, the late Thomas Sankara, and others who represent the
threat of order. In a time when imperialism and disorder go together,
there are many worse things for them than chaos (although, of course,
they would prefer to find a way out for the profit system).
I believe those, in Mosul for instance, who try to impose a kind of
national order on the situation (including protecting Shia when they
come under attack) are closer to what is needed than the advocates of
simon-pure disruption. (Of course, the leaders in Mosul use their
authority to try to disrupt the elections, too, but their position on
the Shia-Sunni conflict is more important than their position of the
elections which are, in themselves, UNIMPORTANT). Fred Feldman
ANALYSIS: Patrick Cockburn on the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq (Dec. 19)
[Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn reports in the
*Independent* (UK) that the Jan. 30 election in Iraq "will be one of the
most secretive in history. Iraqi television shows only the feet of
election officials rather than their faces, because they are terrified
of their identity being revealed." --
Minor details of the election have a macabre cast: "When Iyad Allawi,
the interim Prime Minister, announced his slate of candidates for the
275-member National Assembly in Baghdad last week, it was to a small
audience of American security guards. The venue had been changed at the
last minute to baffle potential assassins, and foreign journalists
deemed it too dangerous to attend." --
On the much discussed question of what George W. Bush is actually
thinking, Patrick Cockburn has reached the tentative conclusion that he
is sincere: "President George Bush and Tony Blair genuinely appear to
believe that there are only limited trouble spots in Iraq and the rest
of the country is at peace." -- The truth (as demonstrated by Sunday's
events, which took place after Cockburn filed this piece) is very
different: "all of Iraq is unstable." --
The U.S. is attempting to hide the extent to which the capital itself is
out of control: "In reality the deadliest location for a U.S. soldier
in Iraq is Baghdad, where 240 U.S. troops have been killed since March
last year, more than twice as many as in Fallujah." -- It is certain
that the war will go on after the election: "Whatever the outcome of the
poll, the five million Sunni in Iraq are numerous enough to continue the
Even the Shia, who succeeded in presenting a single list of candidates,
are "deeply divided," Cockburn writes. -- The result of the election
could well be that the interim prime minister stays on: "Mr. Allawi,
the surprise choice as interim Prime Minister, could go on holding the
job, for the same reason he got it in the first place: the main players
can live with him." -- But none of the institutions providing security
in Iraq possess legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi public: "Often [the
police and National Guard] are not prepared to fight the resistance.
During the uprising in Mosul last month, the insurgents captured 10
police stations, some of them simply by phoning ahead and telling the
police to get out." --Mark Jensen]
A POLL GOVERNED BY FEAR By Patrick Cockburn
** Millions will get no chance to vote, and the war will go on **
Independent (UK) December 19, 2004
BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi election on 30 January, for which campaigning began
last week, will be one of the most secretive in history. Iraqi
television shows only the feet of election officials rather than their
faces, because they are terrified of their identity being revealed. It
will be a poll governed by fear.
Those fears were amply borne out yesterday when insurgents launched
attacks on election offices in northern Iraq. Two people were killed
and eight wounded when mortars landed on an election office in Dujail,
one of many around the country registering and educating potential
voters. Two Iraqis were killed in execution-style shootings and four
American contractors were wounded by a roadside bomb in other incidents.
When Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, announced his slate of
candidates for the 275-member National Assembly in Baghdad last week, it
was to a small audience of American security guards. The venue had been
changed at the last minute to baffle potential assassins, and foreign
journalists deemed it too dangerous to attend.
Shopkeepers distributed registration forms, tucked into the bags of
monthly rations on which most Iraqis depend for survival. In Sunni
districts in Baghdad some shopkeepers, fearing execution by the
resistance, had begged their customers not to reveal where they got the
There is now little doubt that the elections will go ahead. The Sunni
political powers, fearing mass abstention by their constituents, would
like a delay. But they could provide no convincing argument that the
security situation will be any better in six months. Hoshyar Zebari,
the powerful foreign minister, argued that "a delay in holding the
election would be taken as a sign of weakness," and the interim
government is doing what it can to manipulate public opinion.
Announcements that former members of the Saddam regime will go on trial
this week, starting with the notorious "Chemical Ali," Ali Hassan
al-Majid, are seen as electioneering more than anything else. The same
applies to news yesterday that judges had begun interrogating him and
another top suspect.
It is doubtful if the election, at least at first, will mark a real
change in the balance of power between the three main communities in
Iraq: the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds. Nor is it likely to see a
shift in authority from the U.S. to Iraqis. The outcome could simply be
a photocopy of the present government.
Few votes will be cast in the Sunni cities, towns and villages strung
along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers north of Baghdad. Even if voters
did want to go to the polls, it would be extremely dangerous to do so in
places where anybody seen co-operating with the U.S. is a target.
American and British officials persistently underestimate the extent to
which all of Iraq is unstable. President George Bush and Tony Blair
genuinely appear to believe that there are only limited trouble spots in
Iraq and the rest of the country is at peace. Since the beginning of
the insurgency, Washington and London have portrayed it as confined to
the so-called "Sunni triangle" west and north of Baghdad. The phrase is
designed to minimize the extent of the uprising, but in reality there is
guerrilla warfare in all the Sunni towns and cities as well as Baghdad.
As U.S. generals were issuing triumphant claims of victory in Fallujah,
with a population of 300,000, last month they lost control of Mosul, 250
miles to the north, with a population of 1.2 million. The unexpected
insurgent uprising on
10 November, which led to the disintegration of the 8,000-strong police
force, was clearly planned to take advantage of the U.S. assault on
Fallujah on 8 November.
In the most militant cities there is no sign of insurgent activity
diminishing: Every day there are attacks on U.S. and interim government
forces in Baiji, Baquba, Ramadi, Samarra and Tal Afar. Fallujah itself
is far from subdued. Ayham al-Samarrai, the minister of electricity,
*Independent* on Sunday that it would be difficult to hold fair
elections in provinces with a total population of eight million -- a
third of the Iraqi population.
Most serious of all is the situation in Baghdad. U.S. military
briefings give the impression that Fallujah has been the heart of the
uprising since the invasion. In reality the deadliest location for a
U.S. soldier in Iraq is Baghdad, where 240 U.S. troops have been killed
since March last year, more than twice as many as in Fallujah. It is
the capital that may witness the most violence as the election gets
Whatever the outcome of the poll, the five million Sunni in Iraq are
numerous enough to continue the uprising. The feeling that their
community is being disenfranchised may increase support for the
resistance. Because all Iraq is being treated as a single constituency,
the Sunni may have few representatives. Had each of the 18 provinces in
Iraq been allocated a set number of deputies to the National Assembly,
then the Sunni provinces would be represented, despite a low turnout.
Voters will go to the polls in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Shia districts of
Baghdad, and in southern Iraq. Ever since the U.S. invasion overthrew
Saddam Hussein in April last year, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has
demanded an election in which the Shia could show that they make up
between 15 and 16 million of the
25 million Iraqi population.
But power in Iraq today grows out of the barrel of a gun. When Dr.
Hussain al-Shahristani, the highly respected and influential nuclear
scientist tortured and imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, announced the Shia
electoral list earlier this month, it was in the Convention Centre in
the Green Zone in Baghdad, protected by U.S. soldiers.
Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential Shia religious leader, is behind
the Shia list, but it is not quite clear how far behind. The list may
120 to 130 members of the National Assembly, as it expects.
The Shia leaders, though they have agreed an electoral pact, are deeply
divided. At the head of the list is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of
the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a party long
based in Iran. Perhaps the most popular politician in Iraq is Ibrahim
al-Jaafari, the head of one of factions of the Dawa party. But the list
also includes Ahmed Chalabi, once the choice of the Pentagon to be the
new leader of Iraq.
Mr. Allawi, the surprise choice as interim Prime Minister, could go on
holding the job, for the same reason he got it in the first place: the
main players can live with him. The most important of these is the U.S.
"There is simply no one else on whom the National Assembly could reach
consensus," a senior official from a leading Shia party was quoted as
saying. "Kurds would rather deal with Allawi than an Islamist Shia. So
would Sunnis. We also realize that an Islamist Shia prime minister is a
red line for the Americans."
But Mr. Allawi has shown that he looks first of all to Washington for
instructions. He supported the assault on Fallujah, despite the
bloodshed. Militarily he is dependent on the U.S. army. This might not
damage him in the eyes of many Iraqi voters if he had satisfied their
desire for security or improved the supply of electricity and fuel.
Unfortunately for him the shortages are getting worse.
The police and the National Guard lack legitimacy. Often they are not
prepared to fight the resistance. During the uprising in Mosul last
month, the insurgents captured 10 police stations, some of them simply
by phoning ahead and telling the police to get out.
The problems for the U.S. and the interim government will be largely
unchanged after the election. The Sunni will not stop their uprising
while the occupation continues. The government will still depend on
American guns to defend it. The differences between the three main
Iraqi communities are increasing, and the war will go on.
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