And so Iraq held its first election under the US occupation. I'm eager to see the full results come in for two reasons. First, it will be very interesting to see who voted. According to the CNN story, turnout varied highly by region and by ethinicity. Second, I am curious as to which slate of candidates polled the best because as far as I can tell each had fairly different ideas of how best to move Iraq forward. I will, as always, be depending greatly on Professor Cole for this information. I note that Bush has already deemed the election a "resounding success," which is about the level of detatched, grandiose language one has come to expect from him. The actual act of holding an election is not the barometer here. Recall that before the invasion, Saddam held an election in late 2002 and polled quite well. Of course, that election was a joke because Saddam was a tyrant before the election as he was after it. The Ukraine also held an election late last year. Er, two elections. Shit even Uzbekistan held an election.
Anyone can hold an election, but it is the circumstances that lead up to and follow an election that give it credibility. The pre-election circumstances in Iraq were very much a mixed bag. On the ballot were slates of candidates that represent different ideas about what Iraq is and where it should go. Violence and brinksmanship, though, disrupted the pre-election conditions. Violence against candidates was so bad that they were instructed to keep their names and their candidacies a secret, so it's difficult to call today's polling "free and fair." The withdrawal of nearly all Sunni candidates from the ballot, whether for legitimate concerns or simply in an attempt to cancel the elections, further tainted the pre-election ground.
But still the election went forward. And a parliament that would be thought laughably discredited in any western country will convene to ostensibly do the work of its people. It is during this period that we'll see if this election was credible at all. Expectations are that Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani's party will do quite well indeed today. Al-Sistani has some very strong and very independent-minded ideas about the future of Iraq. Ideas that will not sit well with our own mullahs here in the US. I don't expect that Bush will allow any credibility to take root around this parliament. For were they to be left to their own devices, they might start to act uppity. Nothing pisses off Bush more than lesser people getting uppity. John Negroponte and his death squads will ensure that the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate and that the new Iraqi constitution (which this parliament was elected to write) look eerily similar to the current ruling law.
Those latter two predictions are why I think this election (tainted though it was) was important. Some measure of the Iraqi populace (hopefully a majority) has put its collective faith in a specific group of people (none American) to turn this situation around. How that faith is abused and leads to civil war is the story over the next 6 months to a year. Let us remember, then, that it could have been different. As with pre-war preparation, post-war stability operations and the transfer of sovereignty, this could have been a moment when something genuinely positive occured, but did not.
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