19 January 2005


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, January 21 2005

No one knows for certain what will happen in next week’s election in Iraq — but it is already clear that it will leave a lot to be desired as an exercise in democracy, particularly in the Sunni Arab areas of the country where the insurgency against the occupation is centred.

No election that takes place under military occupation by a foreign power can be truly free. Nor can any election conducted amid a substantial armed insurgency. Most of the 80-plus parties and alliances running for office in Iraq have refused to name most of their candidates because of death threats from the insurgents. The main Sunni Arab partner in interim prime minister Iyad Allawi’s government, the Iraqi Islamic Party, is boycotting the poll, which it said should have been postponed. It appears increasingly likely that the insurgency will make it impossible for polling stations to open in many Sunni Arab areas — and in those where polling can take place there is every chance that a mixture of intimidation by the insurgents and sympathy with them will result in a very low turnout.

So is the poll an utter fraud? Rather a large number of western leftists and liberals seem to think so. But, as ever, some of them deserve to be taken seriously and some most definitely do not.

The least credible in Britain are the assorted Trotskyists and Stalinists who — along with various Islamists — make up the bulk of the Stop the War Coalition and George Galloway’s Respect party. The Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party of Britain and the rest decided early on that Iraq was best left to a bloody civil war because that would most damage Yankee imperialism — which they oppose as their first, last and only political function.

Now they want the Iraqi election to be a complete disaster — and stuff the consequences for the long-suffering people of Iraq. They declare their support for the insurgents in Iraq, whom they describe as the “resistance”, a seal of approval that evokes the heroic struggles against the Nazis in Europe in the 1940s.

The fact that the Iraqi “resistance” today comprises the most reactionary elements of Islamism and the most psychotic diehards from Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist regime has passed them by — or rather, they have deliberately ignored it. They have also conveniently failed to recognise that the “resistance” in the past few months has turned from targeting the American military to targeting civilians.

The implications of this brain-dead anti-imperialism have been long apparent to anyone who follows the Leninists’ antics. But they became horribly clear a fortnight ago with the murder of Hadi Salih, the international secretary of the the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and a prominent member of the Iraqi Communist Party, who was tortured and killed for the “crime” of opting to work through the electoral process (on an anti-occupation ticket). The leaders of Stop the War took an age to issue a weasel-worded condemnation of the murder of a man whose comrades Galloway recently described as “quislings”. Pass the sick bag.


Other western critics of the Iraqi election are not defeatists: they are merely pessimists who doubt it will produce a legitimate government or stop what appears to be a drift to civil war. And it is indeed difficult to see how the election will give the Sunni Arabs proper representation or quickly bring the insurgency to an end.

But, flawed as it is, it remains Iraq’s best hope. The Sunni Arabs account for roughly 20 per cent of the Iraqi people. Roughly the same proportion of Iraqis are Kurds, and 50 per cent are Shia. And in Kurdish and Shia areas there is a vigorous election campaign going on — and every indication that there will be massive and enthusiastic participation on January 30.

Of course, the Kurds and the Shias have selfish reasons for voting. The Kurds see the election as a means of guaranteeing themselves substantial autonomy from Baghdad. And the Shias see it as the means — at last — of ending the Sunni Arab minority’s near-monopoly of state power, a feature of every Iraqi regime from the Ottoman era to Saddam Hussein.

What, though, is wrong with that? These people constitute the majority of Iraqis — and democracy is by definition majority rule. A Shia-dominated Iraqi government with overwhelming electoral support from everywhere but the Sunni Arab areas would be infinitely more legitimate than the current interim administration. Who knows, if it managed simultaneously to reassure the Sunnis that their rights would be respected and to persuade the Americans to announce a timetable for leaving, it might even have enough clout to end the insurgency.

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