Isn’t it nice that come January there will be national elections in Iraq? After all those years living under the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein, the huddled Iraqi masses will be able to go to polling places and cast their secret ballots to choose their representatives in a national assembly? And the assembled representatives will write a new constitution for Iraq leading to a true constitutional democracy in 2006? At least that’s what we were led to believe when sovereignty was turned over July 1 to a hand-picked, U.S.-approved “interim government” to be led by Iyad Allawi, the new prime minister.
Now it seems the electoral commission chosen by Allawi is fixing things so the parties created by those Iraqis who lived in exile in recent decades and who owe their allegiance to the United States will be heavily favored in the ballot positioning. Allawi, who of course is going to run for president on his own party’s slate and will be a shoo-in the way things are rigged, will not have to worry about the Sunni nationalists messing up his chances because they will boycott the rigged process.
What’s going on here? Remember there was a war between Iran and Iraq from 1980 to 1988? Several hundred thousand Iraqis died in the war, which they were not supposed to win but win they did when the Iranians sued for peace when outmaneuvered by Saddam’s generals. Shi’ites and Sunnis who previously had considered themselves first and foremost Shi’ites and Sunnis celebrated victory as nationalists, Iraqis first and foremost. They may have had differences over the way Saddam ran the country after the war, but to this day they regard Allawi and the other Iraqis in exile as traitors, quislings in fact, who had supported the Iranians in that long war. Ahmed Chalabi, who was the neocons first choice to be prime minister, to this day has a villa in Tehran and has been accused by the CIA of leaking classified secrets to the Iranians.
Even the majority of the Kurds, who would like to be independent of Iraq but who know they cannot expect more than independent status within an Iraqi federation, view Allawi and co. as outsiders compared to the political class that remained in Iraq and fought the enemy. Roughly 85% of the Iraqi Kurds fought on the side of the Baghdad government. The 15% who fought with Iran are those who are favored by the Allawi electoral commission.
Can you see how this ain’t going to work? No matter how much money the U.S. pours into Iraq to feed the exile political crowd while it establishes what every nationalist correctly views as a puppet of Washington, D.C., there will be homegrown patriots willing to take up arms as “insurgents,” i.e., freedom fighters, the men Allawi calls “terrorists.” There would be no end in sight to the civil war now underway within this political framework, which is why Bob Novak could write last week that there are those inside the Bush administration who figure on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq next year after the truncated January elections.
Yes, there would be a bloodier civil war, we might suppose, but with Allawi’s hands on the apparatus of the central government and the military means to go after the insurgents with no holds barred, the neocons in the Bush administration may calculate Allawi will come out on top and they will have what they want after all. That’s only speculation on my part, but I would still tend to agree with Scott Ritter that Allawi and co. could win a civil war. Can you imagine Benedict Arnold running for president against Thomas Jefferson and coming out on top?
Here’s the first glimmer of understanding in our news media that this is what’s up, by Dexter Filkins of the NY Times in his Thursday front-page dispatch:
“According to people with knowledge of the talks, Ayatollah Sistani is concerned that the nascent democratic process here is falling under the control of a handful of the largest political parties, which cooperated with the American occupation and are comprised largely of exiles.
“In particular, these sources say, Ayatollah Sistani is worried about discussions now under way among those parties to form a single ticket for the elections, thus limiting the choices of voters and smothering smaller political parties.
“Ayatollah Sistani, who earlier this year sent tens of thousands of Iraqis into the streets to demand early elections, is said to be worried that a ‘consensus list’ of candidates from the larger political parties would artificially limit the power of the Shi’ites, who form a majority in the country.”
To add yet another twist, remember that while Sistani is the most important Shi’ite cleric in Iraq, he is an Iranian by birth. Moqtada al-Sadr pays religious obeisance to Sistani, but is the leader of the Shi’ite political insurgents.