[lbo-talk] Sistani, Elections, and Sectarianism (was Poll: They really don't want us there)

joanna 123hop at comcast.net
Tue Aug 29 08:24:42 PDT 2006

Wow. That's a keeper....next time I get into an argument about how we spread democracy everywhere we go....


Seth Ackerman wrote:

> Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
> > On 8/28/06, Michael Pugliese <michael.098762001 at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> >> http://www.countercurrents.org/iraq-hassan100305.htm
> >> Iraq Elections And The Liberal Elites:
> >> A Response To Noam Chomsky
> >>
> >> By Ghali Hassan
> >>
> >> 10 March, 2005
> >> Countercurrents.org
> >>
> >> In a recent opinion piece, Naom Chomsky writes, "In Iraq, the January
> >> elections were successful and praiseworthy. However, the main success
> >> is being reported only marginally: The United States was compelled to
> >> allow them to take place.
> >
> >
> And let us not forget this piece of piercing analysis!....
> http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2530
> Extra! May/June 2005
> Defeated by Democracy
> Reported as triumph, Iraq elections were really Bush team’s nightmare
> By Seth Ackerman
> [....]
> But beneath the layers of encomia to the Bush administration’s
> commitment to Iraqi democracy lies the buried history of how the first
> free elections in Iraq’s modern history actually came to be. From the
> very start, the administration was determined to install its
> handpicked favorites in positions of power in Baghdad and to exclude
> Iraqis with broader public support. For nearly a year, it watched
> helplessly as that strategy gradually came unglued. Only after its
> preferred game-plan decisively collapsed—in the face of an armed Sunni
> insurgency, the popular rejection of U.S.-supported Iraqi exiles, and
> crucially, the threat of a massive Shiite uprising—did the Bush
> administration reluctantly bow to pressure from Islamists and allow a
> free vote.
> Many of those commentators now hailing Bush’s historic push for Iraqi
> democracy had spent earlier months commenting pointedly on the
> administration’s refusal to permit elections—some approvingly, others
> with frustration. Yet once the Bush team resolved to put a brave face
> on a policy U-turn they had in effect been compelled to undertake (and
> then sanctify it with ever-grander rhetoric about freedom and
> democracy), the pundits treated it not as a reversal, but as the
> triumphant culmination of the administration’s heartfelt democratic
> “vision” for the Middle East.
> “Unilateral control”
> Some of the most informative reporting on Bush’s original plans to
> dictate the terms of the new Iraqi political order came, ironically,
> from neoconservative journalists with sources in the Defense
> Department. As planning for an invasion intensified in late 2002,
> Pentagon hawks circulated the idea of declaring a “provisional
> government” of handpicked Iraqi exiles before Saddam was toppled (New
> Republic, 2/17/03). Such a government was to be based on a grouping of
> opposition leaders led by Ahmed Chalabi—“among the truest” Iraqi
> friends of America, according to a Weekly Standard editorial
> (3/24/03)—whose Iraqi National Congress (INC) had been bankrolled by
> the U.S. for almost a decade.
> About a month before the invasion, however, the administration shelved
> that approach after it “decided that the exiles do not command
> sufficient popularity within Iraq to lead a liberated nation” (New
> Republic, 2/17/03). The new plan, leaked to the Washington Post in
> February (2/21/03), called for “the Bush administration . . . to take
> complete, unilateral control of a post Saddam Hussein Iraq.” A
> U.S.-appointed Iraqi commission would be entrusted with writing a new
> constitution—but “officials emphasized that they would not expect to
> ‘democratize’ Iraq along the lines of the U.S. governing system.
> Instead, they speak of a ‘representative Iraqi government,’” the Post
> reported.
> Yet the Pentagon was not yet ready to give up on Chalabi. In April, it
> airlifted him, along with several hundred fighters from the Free Iraqi
> Forces (FIF), a Pentagon-trained exile militia loyal to Chalabi, into
> the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, where he sought to rally the local
> population behind him (Financial Times, 4/12/03). In Baghdad, an FIF
> “general” and Chalabi aide called a press conference to declare
> himself mayor (Financial Times, 4/17/03). And in Najaf, a mysterious
> group called the Iraqi Coalition of National Unity rode into town on
> U.S. Special Forces vehicles and briefly took over the local
> administration, commandeering private homes and cars and “looting and
> terrorizing their neighborhood with impunity, according to most
> residents” (Financial Times, 4/9/03).
> All of this was explained later, by a U.S. official critical of the
> Pentagon, as the result of a Defense Department planning process that
> had envisioned “a 60–90 days, a flip-over and hand-off, a lateral or
> whatever to Chalabi and the INC. . . . And there would be a democratic
> Iraq that was amenable to our wishes and desires left in its wake”
> (Financial Times, 8/4/03). Other reporting largely confirmed this
> account of the Pentagon’s Iraq planning (e.g., Knight Ridder,
> “Pentagon Civilians’ Lack of Planning Contributed to Chaos in Iraq,”
> 7/13/03).
> Priority: privatization
> This early history of the occupation—a “hand-off” to a favored exile
> politician who would then lead a regime “amenable to our wishes and
> desires”—offered little support to the media portraits that attributed
> a grassroots democratic vision to Pentagon neoconservatives.
> Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson (3/22/05), for example,
> spoke of the Iraq war as in large part “a product of Paul Wolfowitz’s
> grand idea to democratize the Middle East,” while the New York Times’
> William Safire penned a column last year (5/24/04) contending that
> unlike the Arabists in the State Department, the Pentagon passionately
> desired “a democratic Iraq to cut off the incubation of terror in the
> Middle East.”
> Yet the Bush administration’s lofty democratic ideals became even less
> evident as the next phase of the occupation began. In May 2003,
> Ambassador Paul Bremer, a Kissinger protégé, assumed his post as head
> of the Coalition Provisional Authority—or, as he was sometimes called,
> the U.S. viceroy in Iraq.
> Taking firm control of Iraq’s governance, Bremer quickly laid out his
> agenda. Speaking to reporters in June aboard a U.S. military transport
> plan, he insisted—“with such fervor that his voice cut through the din
> of the cargo hold,” the Washington Post reported (12/28/03)—that
> opening Iraq’s state-run economy to foreign investors was among his
> most urgent priorities. “We have to move forward quickly with this
> effort,” he said. “Getting inefficient state enterprises into private
> hands is essential for Iraq’s economic recovery.”
> But nothing went smoothly for Bremer. His economic plans, rammed
> through by U.S.-appointed Iraqi ministers, were bitterly opposed, both
> by Iraqi trade unions and by business leaders who faced the prospect
> of ruin at the hands of better financed multinational corporations.
> The head of the American Iraqi Chamber of Commerce called them “a
> recipe for disaster,” while a major Iraqi business leader, Walid
> Hafidh, labeled the policies a “world occupation” that would render
> Iraqis “immigrants in their own land”—sentiments “echoing the thoughts
> of many businesspeople in the Iraqi capital, some of whom appeared on
> Arab satellite television . . . to air their grievances,” according to
> the Los Angeles Times (9/23/03).
> “Potemkin Shia”
> Still more ominous was the growing popularity of Islamist political
> parties among Iraq’s majority Shiite sect. Before the war,
> neoconservative pundits, such as the ubiquitous Iraq expert Reuel Marc
> Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute, had argued that there
> was no contradiction between excluding these groups from power and
> fostering an Iraqi democracy, since the Islamists would prove
> unpopular anyway, once Iraq was liberated.
> “It is by no means clear that a return of political activism among the
> Shia . . . would lead to fundamentalism,” Gerecht wrote (Weekly
> Standard, 3/24/03). “Nor is it clear that the radical Shia groups that
> defied Saddam’s rule—principally the clandestine guerrilla Dawa
> organization inside Iraq and the Supreme Council for the Islamic
> Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) headquartered in Tehran—will have
> significant followings in Iraq once Saddam is gone.”
> The New Republic’s Lawrence Kaplan (5/12/03) was assured by “members
> of the Bush team” that followers of SCIRI were actually just “Potemkin
> Shia”—“bought, paid for, and exported by Iran.”
> This was the gamble on which the war was based. And once the Bush
> administration saw itself in danger of losing that bet, it resorted to
> repression. Across Iraq, SCIRI’s offices were raided by U.S. troops
> and its leaders arrested (Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, 6/24/03). When
> a SCIRI candidate was expected to win local elections in Najaf, the
> vote was shut down by U.S. troops on Bremer’s orders (New York Times,
> 6/19/03).
> This soon became a pattern. “U.S. military commanders have ordered a
> halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns
> across Iraq,” the Washington Post reported the following week
> (6/28/03), “choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors
> and administrators.” The problem with free elections, Bremer
> explained, was that “it’s often the best organized who win, and the
> best organized right now are the former Baathists and to some extent
> the Islamists.”
> Over the next six months, the Bush administration found itself locked
> in a tenacious rearguard action to prevent democratic elections and
> ensure that political power would be wielded only by its trusted Iraqi
> lieutenants. In June, the leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah al-Sistani,
> issued a fatwa against Bremer’s plan to have U.S.-appointed Iraqis
> write a constitution and insisted only freely elected Iraqis be involved.
> “Partial elections”
> According to a Washington Post reconstruction of what followed
> (11/26/03), the Bush administration first assumed it could ignore the
> fatwa by seeing to it that “secular former exiles backed by the U.S.
> government would push Bremer’s plan.” When that didn’t work, “they
> talked about recruiting other ayatollahs . . . to issue statements
> warning about the dangers of immediate elections.” But none materialized.
> To mollify Sistani, Bremer’s advisors came up with a new idea, which
> they marketed as a “partial election” (Extra!, 3–4/04). When Sistani
> declined to endorse the idea, Bremer refused to give up. He set up a
> committee of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, hoping it
> would recommend his own “partial election” plan.
> When the committee voted 24–0 to endorse Sistani’s call for free
> elections, Bremer instructed his allies on the Governing Council to
> disregard the report and ask for a new one. “We told them to come up
> with other ideas,” one councilmember said (Washington Post, 11/26/03).
> “We told them to consider partial elections.”
> Bremer made one last-ditch effort to enlist Shiite politicians to
> change Sistani’s mind. In response, the cleric issued a written
> statement to the Associated Press (10/19/03), insisting there was “no
> substitute” for direct elections. That statement caused nothing less
> than a crisis for the Bush administration. Bremer flew back to
> Washington for emergency consultations. A U.S. official, speaking
> anonymously to the Washington Post (11/26/03), articulated the
> fundamental truth about U.S. policy toward Iraqi self-government that
> few in the media have been willing to acknowledge: “Once it became
> clear we couldn’t get around the election, we knew we had to do
> something else.”
> “Worst-case scenario”
> That “something else” was initially a cosmetic change, envisioning a
> speeded-up transfer of sovereignty to Iraq but a permanent
> constitution still to be written by Iraqis selected through
> “caucuses.” Although U.S. officials adamantly insisted that their
> opposition to elections was motivated solely by logistical concerns,
> it emerged that they had quietly vetoed a detailed Iraqi technical
> plan to hold an early vote (Extra!, 3–4/04). In more candid moments,
> some, like Noah Feldman, Bremer’s advisor on constitutional issues,
> admitted the real motive: “Simply put, if you move too fast, the wrong
> people could get elected,” Feldman told the New York Times (11/29/03).
> But Sistani wasn’t fooled. He declared the new U.S. plan illegitimate
> in “its totality and its details.” In the largest demonstrations in
> Iraq’s modern history to that point, 100,000 Shiites marched in
> Baghdad and 30,000 in Basra to support the ayatollah’s demand (AP,
> 1/19/04). Aides to Sistani hinted that if nonviolent protest failed to
> bring genuine elections, armed resistance could follow (Washington
> Post, 1/17/04). With U.S. casualties already mounting from the armed
> Sunni insurgency further north, the Bush administration finally
> realized it had no other option. Over the next few months, it
> gradually conceded that elections would be held and the date was set
> for January 2005.
> That wasn’t, of course, the end of the administration’s efforts to
> install its favorites in positions of power. It settled on a new
> proxy—Iyad Allawi, a former Baathist with close ties to the old Iraqi
> Army—and strong-armed the United Nations into appointing him interim
> prime minister, instead of Hussein Shahristani, a respected Shiite
> physicist close to Sistani (Newsweek, 2/5/05). During Allawi’s tenure,
> Shahristani later complained, “nothing could be done without U.S.
> approval.” The U.S. then spent the next year not so subtly backing
> Allawi’s election campaign; U.S. officials fed journalists a steady
> stream of confident off-the-record predictions of Allawi’s impending
> electoral victory (New Republic Online, 3/24/05).
> But the results of Iraq’s first free elections demonstrated more
> clearly than anything else why the administration had been so opposed
> to them in the first place. The winning slate was a coalition led by
> the two Shiite parties, SCIRI and Dawa, that had been most feared by
> the Bush administration. “Within the Bush administration, a victory by
> Iraq’s religious parties is viewed as the worst-case scenario,”
> reported the Washington Post’s veteran Middle East correspondent,
> Robin Wright, a few months before the vote (10/22/04).
> The Shiites’ likely victory apparently led some administration
> officials to doubt whether the whole Iraq adventure was even worth it:
> “After all the blood and treasure we’ve spent and despite the
> occupation’s democracy efforts, we’re in a position now that the
> moderates would not win if an election were held today,” Wright quoted
> a U.S. official.
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