“And to George W. Bush, we say, ‘You have asked us to bring it on, and so have we. Like never expected. Have you another challenge’?”
– Message from the Sunni Iraqi resistance, January 12
History will salute it in kind: the US administration of George W. Bush, parts 1 and 2, has introduced to the world the concept of election at gunpoint. The guinea pig: Iraq, on January 30. The rules: candidates must be anonymous (otherwise they will be killed). Voters cannot go out and vote (otherwise they may be killed). Even if they wanted to vote, they wouldn’t know where, because the location of the polling stations will be known only the night before the election.
Of 1 million eligible expatriate voters, only 10% will actually vote. There are no Sunni Arab candidates (in part because the US military killed – or jailed – many Sunni party and tribal leaders). For any Iraqi in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey, it will be impossible to cross the border and vote: borders will be closed for three days. Inside Iraq there will be curfews – and even traffic will be blocked. Half of all candidates have already withdrawn. And there will be no international monitors. As the names of the roughly 7,700 candidates on 80 party coalition lists are still unknown on the eve of polling day, no wonder the word on Baghdad’s streets is that “the Americans gave us the first secret elections in history.”
Asia Times Online sources in a ravaged Baghdad under a gloomy, grayish sky filled with smoke from fires and weapons and smog from cars and generators confirm that something like 40% of Iraqis believe they are electing a president – when they are in fact voting for a list of candidates representing a party or coalition. Each party chooses the pecking order of candidates in each list. The word in Baghdad is that at least 4 million of 15 million eligible Iraqi voters will not show up on Sunday (roughly 27%). In neighboring Jordan, the estimate is that at least 40% will not show up.
So far, 53 political parties – roughly half of the registered total – as well as all 30 independent candidates have abandoned the elections to protest that they are being held under occupation. A crucial absence is the Patriotic Front for Iraqi Tribes, a coalition of 40 major Sunni tribes. US troops recently killed Sheikh Abd al-Razzaq al-Ka’udd, one of the chiefs of the powerful Dulaim tribe of the western desert – a big, big mistake. The tribe responded that with no security, voting is out of the question. It also accused many parties of being involved in an industry of fake ballots.
The election result is a foregone conclusion: a parliament dominated by Shi’ites, with a few Kurds and no Sunni Arabs. “If you vote we will kill you,” says the Sunni resistance to the Iraqi population. “If you don’t vote, we will kill you later,” says the Pentagon to the Sunni resistance. Under these circumstances the elections cannot possibly be credible, and cannot possibly result in a legitimate government. Only one thing is certain: the guerrilla war afterward will be even bloodier – with ominous civil-war overtones.
A Sunni ‘parliamentary quota’?
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the leading man in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani-endorsed Shi’ite party list that will win the elections and form the next government, is on the shortlist for being chosen as prime minister, as well as Ibrahim Jaafari of the Da’wa Party – the most popular politician in Iraq at the moment. There is also plenty of speculation in Baghdad over another SCIRI member, Adil Abdul Mahdi, a secular Shi’ite and former Marxist who is currently the finance minister in the Iyad Allawi regime.
Shi’ites may win it – but they may not get it. Baghdad is awash with rumors that Washington is still trying to strike some kind of deal with Sistani so “the man from the Americans” or “Saddam without a mustache” (as he is known in Baghdad) Allawi remains in power, along with his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset-infested government, which encouraged and applauded the destruction of Fallujah. Washington neo-conservatives are concerned about the influence of Shi’ite Iran on the Shi’ite parties; thus the Washington-Green Zone axis in Baghdad is busy maneuvering not only to keep their man in power, but to get a sort of “parliamentary quota” for the Sunnis as well – as a way of conferring some legitimacy to the political process. The Iraqi Islamic Party has already said “no” to a similar offer by the UIA.
This is happening just as the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), in a remarkable turnaround, finally decided to accept a Shi’ite-dominated government – and now insists it has only “differences of opinion” with Sistani. The AMS still stands by its call for a boycott of the elections. And its priority remains a definitive deadline to get the Americans out. This is the priority of virtually the whole Iraqi population, Sunni, Shi’ite or Kurd.
But now Sheikh Ibrahim al-Adhami, the leader of the crucial Abu Hanifa mosque (where the Iraqi resistance was born) and a key AMS senior member, is saying that “the elections are one matter, the constitution is another.” The next parliament will double as a constituent assembly. Adhami and the AMS are now saying that “all Sunnis must take part in drafting the constitution.”
This in essence means that the whole ball game after the elections will revolve on when and how to kick the Americans out. It’s also the only window of opportunity for the future Shi’ite government to seduce moderate Sunnis who fear civil war, and the only way to isolate the guerrilla resistance.
But if the whole neo-conservative rationale for the invasion and occupation of Iraq was to facilitate the expansion of greater Israel and control a key energy source in the Middle East, how is it possible for Washington to even envision a retreat? The Pentagon has already announced that it is ready to keep at least 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years, under two pretexts: to train Iraqi security forces and to fight the guerrilla war. President George W Bush has spelled it all out: the US will not be leaving Iraq any time soon because he has interpreted his re-election as a confidence vote. Ask Vice President Dick Cheney (although he won’t answer): the whole point of the US in Iraq is long-term domination over Arab oil.
What Sistani wants
Drafting the permanent constitution will open a Pandora’s box – but one thing seems to be certain at the moment: Iraq post-election will not be an Islamic republic. Even with the Shi’ites deferring to Sistani’s wishes, it’s fair to expect a strong federal state, highly centralized, with secular law occasionally clashing with Islam, but only as far as personal beliefs are concerned.
It’s critical to consider that Sistani has never issued a fatwa or even a mere commentary asking for the Americans to leave right after the elections. Until now, the uneasy feeling among most Sunnis is that Sistani has been cooperating with the invaders/occupiers. This has led to wild speculation among Sunnis, our sources say, about an evil alliance between the Americans and the Shi’ites to smash the Sunnis. But the fact is the crucial Shi’ite electoral promise is to negotiate the American way out. If an elected Shi’ite government won’t do it, it will be immediately denounced by Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – who maintains that there cannot be free and fair elections under occupation. There’s no electoral campaigning at all in the 2.5-million-strong slum of Sadr City in Baghdad, Muqtada’s stronghold.
It’s also taken for granted in Baghdad that the Shi’ites will deliver a Kurdistan to the Kurds, composed of six of Iraq’s 18 provinces – with incendiary consequences. On January 16, the Allawi regime and the Iraqi electoral commission allowed 100,000 Kurds expelled from oil-rich, multi-ethnic Kirkuk by Saddam Hussein to vote in the province. Sunni Arabs were livid: Kirkuk is currently out of the Kurdish autonomous region, and Kurds dream of it as the capital of a future Kurdistan. Immediately afterward, the head of the Arab Unifying Front, Wasfy al-Assy, said his coalition had pulled out of the elections.
The specter of Fallujah
Since April 2003, eight US divisions cannot even secure the road from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone. The Allawi regime, brutal as well as illegitimate, only benefited the guerrilla war. The “Salvador option,” CIA-run death squads, is also not likely to smash the guerrilla war.
Washington neo-conservatives cannot create a “new Iraq” because Sunni guerrillas have already infiltrated and will keep on infiltrating every new institution. Moreover, the Pentagon has no intelligence to engage in effective counterinsurgency – thus the desperate talk about the “Salvador option.”
Fallujah has disappeared from the news – as well as from the face of the Earth – but the guerrilla war continues. There was no “breaking the back of the insurgency,” as the Pentagon mantra claims. Fallujah was in essence obliterated by a man-made tsunami to prove the superiority of “American values.” The Sunni resistance in essence responded: “Is that all you’ve got?”
Asia Times Online sources close to the resistance in Fallujah confirm that a running joke among the mujahideen – reminiscent of many a hip-hop lyric in the US – is that the Americans control the day, but then the muqawama (resistance) imposes its own curfew and controls the night. The fighters’ rage against the occupiers – compounded by Abu Ghraib, repeated killings of innocent civilians, perceived napalm bombing in Fallujah – is boundless. Last weekend, the Fallujah mujahideen, according to a military plan by the general command of the Iraqi Islamic Resistance, decided to withdraw from the southern part of the city – which they controlled – because dozens of other resistance groups around the country were asking to share their expertise.
They have time. They have loads of weapons. They have plenty of financing. One of these groups alone – the Islamic Army in Iraq, which kept two French journalists as hostages for four months – has 17,000 jihadis, including some former Saddam Republican Guards. Even Iraq’s chief spook, General Mohammed Shahwani, agrees that the resistance numbers at least 40,000 hardcore fighters, with a support group of “as many as 200,000.” Their motto is “victory or death.” Vote or no vote, “free” or “secret” elections, for them any new Iraqi government will be seen as a mortal enemy.