“The people of Iraq have spoken.”
-- President George W. Bush, 1-30-05
Judging by the 57% turnout (quickly lowered from the absurdly optimistic 72% reported by the Western press) the elections were not the earthshaking triumph claimed by the president. Now, it seems, even those estimates have been challenged. For example, independent journalist Dahr Jamail reports that many Iraqis were coerced into voting by threatening to withhold their food rations. Saeed Jodhet was just one of many Iraqis Jamail questioned who admitted that, “Two of the food dealers I know told me personally that our food rations would be withheld if we did not vote.” Jamail’s other interviews reveal the same basic pattern of state-sponsored intimidation.
Depending on how widespread this practice was, (and 65% of Iraqis are now on food rations) it might have had a profound effect on voter turnout. Clearly, Bush’s “get out the vote or starve” campaign veers ever-so-slightly from the spirit of democratic participation.
Nevertheless, Bush’s plan to show off America’s newest petro-colony as a burgeoning democracy was probably surging towards the septic tank anyway. As the latest Zogby poll indicates, 82% of Sunni and 69% of Shiites now favor U.S. forces withdrawing either immediately or after an elected government is in place. Is it fair to wonder if these numbers fall within the range of “resounding success”?
Regrettably, our “war president” ignores the irksome facts that don’t mesh with the “faith-based” ruminations of his loyal cadres. This ensures that we won’t be leaving Iraq anytime soon. In fact, Bush sees the elections as a vindication of his belligerent strategy. Never the stickler for details, Bush seems oddly oblivious to the suffering his war has caused for the Iraqi people. Does he realize that the water has been off for eight straight days in Baghdad and no one seems to know when it will be restored?
Is he aware of the sputtering electrical grid that only cranks out power for four hours per day or that the sewage courses through the streets of downtown Baghdad? He certainly doesn’t grasp that, as Ghazwan al-Mukhtar (retired Iraqi engineer) said, “After 22 months of occupation the Americans haven’t fixed a single thing…Unemployment is high; about 60%. People are starving…the Americans are torturing us.” Mukhtar adds, “And, you want us to be happy with an election?”
Al Mukhtar’s sentiments epitomize those of a great many Iraqis who are gradually being radicalized by their hardscrabble life under occupation. Bush’s windy bromides of democratic utopia have done little to meet the practical needs of the people he boasts of having liberated. They’re simply looking for jobs, food and security -- the foundations of a normal life.
Real Power for the newly Elected Government?
The notion of sovereignty has taken a caning by the Bush team. The elections may have ceremonial value, but as far as imparting real power to government officials; it’s a dead loss. The US overlords will still control the borders, air space, oil extraction, economic policy, and deployment of troops. (Even the ridiculously named Iraqi National Bank is entirely owned by foreign investors) These are the powers we normally associate with sovereignty. For all practical purposes, the new regime is just another “Arab façade”; a coterie of well paid stooges carrying out Washington’s directives. Yes, they can expect to be celebrated by an enthusiastic media eager to welcome America’s latest satraps into the fold. And, they’ll also receive an engraved invitation to the upcoming State of the Union Speech, where they’ll be showcased next to Crawford Laura like some exotic Mesopotamian bird captured in the wild. (The Bush people are very big on diversity) But, as for real power to govern, forget-about-it.
The “One-Voice” Media celebrates the Elections
Although the elections may be a hollow exercise of imperial maneuvering, the coup was carried off with considerable skill. For one thing, the western media proved, once again, its breathtaking range and ability. All the major televised media featured virtually the same storyline without one discordant voice. They praised the “brave Iraqis who put themselves at risk” (as Bush said) to enjoy the blessings of democracy. This “objective” account was accompanied by footage of mile-long lines of expectant Iraqis waiting to cast their first vote in free elections. No mention was made of the fact that (as Robert Fisk noted) that the world media was limited to exactly five polling stations that were secured by legions of troops and armored vehicles in predominantly Shiite areas to give the impression of widespread participation.
In keeping with the (Karl) Rovian philosophy of political hi-jinks, the streets were swept clean, the cement barricades were hidden from view, and the rolls of razor wire were scrupulously kept off camera. All signs of city under siege were effectively concealed. It was a solid effort on the part of the White House producers who slapped this comedy together. Particularly admirable were the scenes of enraptured Iraqis waving flags and gyrating with abandon on the streets of Baghdad. What American could watch such a heartwarming demonstration of elation and not feel choked-up by the great gift Bush has bestowed on these simple people.
Alas, it was all a hoax as well. As Robert Fisk opines in his latest article in The Independent (UK), he stumbled on “three truckloads of youths, all brandishing Iraqi flags-like the unemployed who have been sticking posters to Baghdad’s walls-paid by the government to ‘advertise’ the election. And there was a cameraman from state television.”
“Paid by the government”?
Ah-ha! Yet another public relations ploy like the carefully choreographed toppling of Saddam in Fidros Square, or the staged landing of “Top-Gun” Georgie B. on the USS Lincoln; this time arranged and financed by ex-CIA operative (and former Saddam agent) Iyad Allawi.
Shame, shame, shame!…but good theatre nonetheless. And, besides, the charges of fraud won’t be forthcoming anytime soon. For now, the balloting is being celebrated by the media as another positive step towards the anticipated “transfer of power.” Just listen to the outpouring of the approbation from the press:
“Iraqis Brave Bombs to vote in Millions” (MSNBC)
“This is Democracy!” (Reuters)
“Brave Voters defy Rebels” (NY Post)
“Iraqis begin Historic Vote” (Washington Times)
Anyway, you get the idea. A quick perusing of Google headlines produces 1,468 stories with nearly identical bylines. The Western press is either besotted with Iraq’s “alleged” metamorphosis or they’re getting their marching orders from the “Sec-Def” at the Pentagon. Either way, it’s a waste of time looking for divergent points of view in the establishment media. Anything that fails to harmonize with the Conquistador agenda has been conscientiously extracted by the roots.
NYT’s profound remorse for the deceased
The “Paper of Record” gave its typically glib assessment of the elections by noting “a comparatively peaceful day of voting”. In the parlance of the New York Times that means that only 41 Iraqis were killed; “chump-change” for America’s prodigious war-machine, unless, of course, you happen to be the disconsolate wife or child who just lost your father or brother to a nervous Marine with a hair-trigger finger. In any event that’s not the business of the NY Times. They’ve got a war to cover and (like Tommy Franks says) they don’t do body counts.
Similarly, Corporate George added his voice to the chorus of praise with his characteristic chest-thumping, “I-told-you-so” rhetoric saying “The people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East…Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy, but we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them”…and, blah, blah, blah; like the shallow whistling of hot air emerging from a flat tire.
George W. may be crowing “victory” a bit prematurely. Iraq is not quite ready for the trophy case alongside Bush’s warlord-dominated, drug-colony, Afghanistan. And, despite the celebratory braying from the obsequious press, 20% of the population boycotted the elections, and that 20% (Sunnis) have ruled Iraq as long as anyone can remember. They’ll have their say before the day is done.
Bush can revel in his Pyrrhic victory; everyone enjoys seeing happy, ballot-clutching folks mugging for the cameras. But, beyond the circumscribed range of the media, the fighting rages on.
Attacks on the polls occurred in Baghdad, Balad, Basra, Baquba, Hilla, Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, Al-Duluiya, Al-Mhawil, Al Muqtadiya and Samarra. This is the tragic litany of the Torturer-in-Chief’s ongoing depredations in Iraq; a list that will be faithfully excluded from today’s festive coverage of election results. Reality rarely intrudes into the bubble of managed perceptions that encloses the American public. Today will be no different.
The suffering, torture and death unleashed by America’s blundering military campaign have been suspended to rejoice in this moment of unalloyed, Orwellian ecstasy. Bush has acquired his fig leaf of legitimacy and the rudiments of a client regime that will assist him in his long-range goals, but at what cost to both Iraq’s future and America’s prestige. The Iraqi elections are just another sloppily executed fiasco magnifying the cynical intentions of their authors. They’ll have no measurable affect on the unfolding disaster.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: email@example.com.