The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Sunday, December 18, 2005

What I didn't want to hear about Iraq's elections

In the least surprising event of the month, prominent Republicans had inked their fingers purple before the polls had closed in Iraq. Reactionary bloggers were trumpeting the dawn of a new era in Iraq, now that it had obviously made a successful transition to Jeffersonian democracy. And the White House was dusting off superlatives to assure America that the whole Iraq venture amounted to $250,000,000,000 and (at the very least) 35,000 lives well-spent.

The progressive blogs were far more measured in their response. There were expressions of gratitude that the elections hadn't been marred by massive violence. Expressions of hope that it was a good sign. That for once, we really had "turned a corner," after so many false claims of having done so by the right. But there was still an undercurrent of apprehension.

Naturally, that apprehension was immediately seized upon by the right-wing noise machine. Once again, they would wail and scream that liberals were anti-American. That we wanted the US to fail and Iraq to descend further into violence for the sole purpose of making the administration look even worse.

No, progressive bloggers knew that while the lack of violence was a very good thing, it didn't have anything to do with the election proper. This sort of news does, and it's what we dreaded:

Suspected polling violations on voting day last week far exceeded the number in Iraq's first election in January, local and international monitors said yesterday.

On the deadline for filing complaints, the number of alleged violations which could swing results in the 275-seat parliament was "well into double figures", an accredited international election observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

In January there were only five of these "red" complaints, the observer added. Red complaints are alleged breaches serious enough to potentially hand a seat to a party or election bloc unfairly. The election commission has declined to say how many such complaints it has received, but several parties handed in dossiers listing breaches allegedly seen by their monitors.

Secular Arab parties have accused the Shia religious bloc, which dominates the current government, of intimidating voters in Baghdad and many southern cities.

The Iraqi National List, headed by the former prime minister Ayad Allawi, filed more than 60 complaints yesterday. They alleged that at several polling stations policemen, national guard troops, or men from the major crimes unit were chanting for the Shia religious list, known as 555.

At the Sharqia high school in central Baghdad, which was used as a polling station, a senior election official was said to have asked voters if they were going to vote for 555. Unless they said yes, they were not given ballot papers.

A source close to Mr Allawi's campaign said that in one Baghdad polling station "around 600 men, some with walkie-talkies and purple ink on their fingers showing they had already voted, forced their way in. When the manager tried to stop them asking for ballot papers, they threatened to put him in a car boot and drive him away ... He let them in."

He declined to be identified, citing the fact that an Allawi candidate and five campaign workers were murdered before the poll. All complaints have to be signed by a witness, which created risks, he said.

So while the right-wing shills loudly shout that the means have been justified and all is well, the rest of us will sit and watch nervously, hoping that in spite of everything, Iraq really is taking a step forward. Not just a shift from one totalitarian regime to another.