Iraq’s dodgy election: Isn’t it time to announce the winners?

Published 14 years ago -  - 14y ago 5320

Remember that Iraq election everyone was hailing last week as a triumph of democracy and a model for the region? A quagmire was transformed almost overnight into a stunning victory: when election day dawned, Iraq turned on a dime and was supposedly rendered relatively quiet. I heard one news anchor declare that only eight attacks had occurred. But like much else about the hype surrounding the Iraqi poll, that was not quite true. Depending “on how you count and what period you count,” says deputy chief of U.S. Central Command, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, “there was a significant amount of activity on Election Day”: between 200 and 300 insurgent attacks.

Oh well, but the election was a glorious victory for “democracy,” anyway, no one can deny that – right? As usual, Thomas Friedman put the conventional wisdom in the lede to his column:

“As someone who believed, hoped, worried, prayed, worried, hoped and prayed some more that Iraqis could one day pull off the election they did, I am unreservedly happy about the outcome – and you should be, too.”

What outcome is Friedman talking about? Over ten days after the election was declared an unmitigated success – and some wimped-out liberals immediately began changing their wooly little minds about the war – we still haven’t had any official results announced. And all sorts of shenanigans seem to be going on, of the sort that, if they had happened in Ukraine, say, there would have been an immediate outcry in the West, with all the usual suspects palavering about “election fraud” and sneering at the legitimacy of the entire process.

To begin with, why no results? Sure, there’s a big problem conducting an election in the middle of a war: however, that excuse isn’t worth but a few days, which is the time it took to get the ballots to Baghdad. Yet the counting dragged on: it was beginning to look like Broward County over there. After endless teasing of the media, the Iraqi Election Commission announcedon Wednesday that the results wouldn’t be made public on Thursday as promised due to “irregularities” – and the necessity of a recount.

The commission has already thrown out 40 boxes and over 200 plastic sacks of ballots: sacks aren’t allowed, only boxes. The latest word is that “around 300” ballot boxes are the problem, and need to be re-examined. The Election Commission claims that a number of ballot boxes were stuffed “by gunmen” in Mosul, and that the final results will be announced “later in the month.”

It’s all very vague – and highly suspicious, considering the stakes, especially since we’re only talking about relatively few disputed votes. Each box holds about 500 ballots, and there’s only about 300 boxes, so do the math: probably around 150,000 disputed, tampered-with, or otherwise spoiled ballots out of some 8 million cast. Given the huge margin of victory reportedly enjoyed by the Shi’ite-endorsed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), these questionable votes won’t make much difference one way or the other. Here in the U.S., we would announce the results anyway –so why the delay?

Last week, New York Times reporter Judith Miller was being interviewed on Chris Matthews’ Hardball television program, and the question of Ahmed Chalabi came up. How come this guy, who sold us lies and then turned out to be an Iranian agent, is now popping up once again as a major figure in the new government? Matthews asked a good question, but Miller’s answer was a show-stopper: the U.S. is “reaching out” to Chalabi, and, she said, “there was apparently an effort to determine whether or not he would be interested in assuming a certain portfolio.”

With the U.S. handing out Cabinet posts, and still only vague promises as to when the actual election results are going to be announced, we have the right – nay, the duty – to ask: what’s up with that?

Except nobody’s asking it: not our mainstream journalists, and certainly nobody in Washington, which is still preoccupied with an orgy of self-congratulation.

The last partial returns announced were leaked last Monday. Since then, we’ve heard nothing. It’s all very murky, but, heck, we paid for that election – how come we don’t get to know the results? And why oh why is the mainstream media, which is supposed to be so “liberal” and “biased” against the war, and against Bush, so incurious about all this monkey business?

The reasons for the delayed announcement aren’t hard to discern: the imperfections of this election reflect fault lines threatening to tear Iraq asunder. There’s the disenfranchisement of ethnic and religious minorities in the north, an election fraud scandal featuring Kurds recording over 10,000 votes for their slate coming from a village that is nearly uninhabited, and an attempt to lock out Christians from gaining any seats. I would also note that the last results were announced just as the Kurdish party appeared to knock the U.S.-backed slate of “President” Iyad Allawi out of second place.

After all the yodeling and yammering about the triumphant march of capital-D Democracy across the bombed-out landscape of Iraq, the continued delay in announcing the results is weirdly anticlimactic. Just like the “evidence” for going to war in the first place, the proof that this election was either meaningful or a success evaporates under scrutiny. The idea that this alleged “turning point” exonerates the Gang That Couldn’t See Straight for starting a war under false pretenses, and justifies the horrific costs of the occupation, gets more nonsensical by the day.

The Potemkin village of Iraqi “democracy” is barely a week old, and already it is beginning to show significant signs of wear and tear. We can hear all kinds of noises coming from behind the brightly painted façade, and some of the scenery is shaking so hard that it looks like it could come down at any moment. The sight of it would be funny, except that so many have died for this farcical spectacle.

What do we think we’re doing in Iraq? Saddam is long gone. It’s two years come this March, and still the occupation continues – for no good reason.

According to the administration and even the Democrats who pretend to be against the war, we have to “train” an Iraqi army to fight– when fighting is all they’ve been doing in that part of the world for the better part of 3,000 years! That’s like training Jessica Simpson to apply lip gloss.

The Iraqi military may have been disbanded, but the party militias have remained pretty much intact. The Badr Brigades – the party militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a major component of the victorious UIA – existed underground during the Ba’athist years, fielding about 4,000-8,000 fighters by the late 1990s, and as many as15,000 today. The Sadrist movement, which fought the Americans in Najaf and elsewhere, also has thousands of fighters: they have recently won local elections, and they may get a few seats in the National Assembly, in spite of their alleged boycott of the election. The Da’wa party also has its own militia, as do most of the other major components of the winning coalition: why couldn’t they consolidate these militias into a reconstituted Iraqi army?

Last April I wrote:

“How does it serve our national interest to mediate the demands of the Shi’ites and the Sunnis, the Kurds and the Turkmen, and pay for it all besides? Our war birds have no answer to that question, and so they shriek ‘traitor!’ and ‘appeaser!’ at anyone who dares ask why the national interest is being betrayed – and by whom. Yet the questions are getting louder, the questioners bolder.”

Now the chorus for withdrawal is getting louder, and we have many conservatives as well as liberals and lefties calling for a pullout. As John Derbyshire put it: “Nice election. Now let’s get out of there.” Ted Kennedy agrees. So do Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, along with General William E. Odom, former Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts, and a growingcoalition of defense and foreign policy analysts on the right as well as the left. Let’s have the results of that election, which cost some 1,500 American lives – and as many as 100,000 Iraqi lives – made public, declare victory, and bring the troops home.

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