least 12 persons died violently in the guerrilla war on Saturday in Iraq.
There was a major battle over control of police stations in Khalis, and Marines
found more bodies in Mosul. The U.S. military said that guerrillas had launched
a major campaign of intimidation aimed at frightening Sunni Arabs into boycotting
the forthcoming elections.
"10. Despite the overwhelming media focus on trouble spots, these are all in
the so-called Sunni Triangle, where just 20 percent of the population live."
Seventeen parties, mostly small Sunni Arab groupings along with the two major
Kurdish parties, made a plea Saturday that elections be postponed. Some major
Sunni Arab groups, such as the Association of Muslim Scholars, had already called
for a Sunni Arab boycott.
Al-Jazeera interviewed Sunni cleric Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi on Saturday. He said
that the Allawi government had not been elected and that Sunnis would not participate
in illegitimate elections. The al-Jazeera anchor, a canny woman, asked al-Kubaisi
how a legitimate government could be established without elections. Al-Kubaisi
angrily retorted that there can be no legitimate elections under the shadow
of foreign occupation. (This exchange belies the reputation in the U.S. of al-Jazeera
as the Fox News of the Arab world. Would a Fox anchor have been that aggressive
with, say, Jerry Falwell?)
Anyway, the plea for a postponement was roundly rejected on Saturday by all
the most important actors. George W. Bush, U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad John Negroponte,
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, Election Commissioner Abdul Hussein Hendawi, Grand
Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his three colleagues in Najaf, and 43 major political
parties, all voiced a resounding "No!" The first three would probably have been
President Mohammad Khatami, who was meeting with Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim
Jaafari, came out for holding the elections "as soon as possible." Jaafari is
leader of the Shi'ite Dawa Party, the most popular in Iraq. Khatami portrayed
the issue as one of restoring security, suggesting that an elected government
would have a better chance of calming the country. He said Iran had more of
a stake in a stable Iraq than anyone else.
Khatami would probably have been better advised to keep his mouth shut. The
struggle over postponing elections has already taken on a strong tinge of Sunni-Shi'ite
struggle, especially since the Kurdish parties appear to have given at least
lukewarm support to the plea of the Sunni Arabs for a delay (most Kurds are
Sunnis; some Kurdish officials hedged their bets). Most of the major Iraqi players
insisting on the election being held on time are Shi'ites, whether Arabs or
Turkmen. To have Iraq's Shi'ite neighbor also press for elections to be held
makes it look as though the Shi'ites are ganging up on the Sunnis. That perception
contributes to the guerrilla war in the first place.
Krauthammer, after 18 months of blithe optimism on Iraq, has now suddenly
decided that the country is embroiled in a civil war and that the forthcoming
elections will resemble those of 1864 in the United States, when the Confederate
states did not vote for Lincoln.
As usual, Krauthammer is wrong. Historical analogies are always tricky, but
this one is simply inaccurate. The problem is that Iraqis are not electing a
president, even a war president. They are in effect electing a constitutional
assembly. The main business of the new parliament is to craft a permanent constitution.
So, the analogy would be to 1789. What would the new American Republic's chances
have been if the Southern states had not been able to send delegates to the
constitutional convention, and so had been excluded from having an input into
it? All sorts of compromises had to be hammered out in 1789, concerning Southern
slavery and how to count a slave for census purposes, etc. If the South hadn't
been able to show up, the Northern states would simply have ignored those issues,
and the secession of those states might have come 70 years early. Would the
North have been able to resist it so successfully at that point?
Likewise, Sunni Arabs have a big stake in the permanent constitution. Will it
give Kirkuk and its oil to the Kurds, depriving Arabs of any share in those
revenues? Will it ensconce Shi'ite law as the law of the land? Will it keep
a unicameral parliament, in which Shi'ites would have a permanent majority,
or will it create an upper chamber where Sunnis might be better represented,
on the model of the U.S. Senate? If all those issues go against the Sunnis because
they aren't there to argue their positions, it would set Iraq up for guerrilla
war into the foreseeable future.
And that is why Khatami's hopes that an elected government will be more stable
are unrealistic. It isn't that the government is elected that lends stability,
but rather widespread acceptance of the government's legitimacy. The Sunnis
are unlikely to grant that if they end up being woefully underrepresented. And
then you will just have to reconquer Fallujah again next year. How long before
you are just conquering rubble and snipers?
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat conducted a random poll of 100 Iraqis on Saturday,
in person or by telephone, and found that about 60% wanted the elections to
go forward, 35% wanted a postponement, and 6% refused to answer. It is not clear
if "random" means "scientifically weighted." If they just contacted 100 random
persons, their poll probably isn't worth much. If they tried to vary locale,
social class, ethnicity, and sex according to proportion in the population,
then it would be more telling. They don't say if the respondents were from different
cities, or all in Baghdad.
Langley is wrong for much the same reasons that Krauthammer is. He gives
10 reasons why he thinks the Iraq elections will be a "success." Most of his
points are made in apparent ignorance of the most basic facts about contemporary
Langley's 10 reasons and my response:
This allegation is simply incorrect. First of all, there is no "Sunni triangle."
The Sunni Arab heartland is more like a rectangle, and it is vast, encompassing
much of the capital, Baghdad. Even if it were the only problem, it wouldn't
be a small one. In fact, "trouble spots," if by that is meant things like car
bombings, grenade and mortar attacks on coalition troops and Iraqi national
guards, and machine gun fire, are all over the country. Tal Afar, Kirkuk, Hilla,
Amarah, Majar al-Kabir, Samawah, Sadr City, etc., etc., routinely see "trouble
spots." While most of the guerrillas are Sunni Arabs, they have demonstrated
an ability to strike all over the country. And some of the problems come from
other groups, whether Shi'ite Turkmen in the north or disgruntled Shi'ite Mahdi
Army militiamen in the south.
"9. There are as many people in the Kurdish regions in the north,
as there are in the Sunni Triangle. The Kurdish regions have had successful
multi-party democracies for 12 years."
If hundreds of people show up to a school to vote in Hilla and suddenly take
mortar fire, with dozens killed, then will that really have no effect on turnout?
What if such incidents occur all over the country? Maybe voters will be brave
and refuse to be dissuaded from voting. Maybe they won't. To pretend the problem
does not exist or is limited to only a small part of the country, however, is
to live in a fantasy land.
This datum does not guarantee a successful outcome to the elections. The two
major Kurdish parties have now developed cold feet about them because of fear
of Shi'ite dominance. Moreover, the maximalist demands of the Kurds for a consolidated
Kurdish superprovince, for Kirkuk, for petroleum revenues to remain local, for
permanent exclusion of federal troops from their soil, are more likely to cause
trouble themselves than to offset the troublesome Sunni Arabs.
"8. The majority Shias (60 percent of the population) are keen
to participate. Spiritual leaders, including Ayatollah Sistani, have urged people
to vote and even calling it a religious duty. Under this doctrine, people who
don't vote can go to hell."
This point is true, but does not guarantee successful elections. In fact, if
Shi'ite turnout is very big and Sunni Arab turnout low, it will create a tyranny
of the Shi'ite majority, a special problem when parliament turns to constitution-making.
"7. The electoral system chosen (national lists) is not particularly
vulnerable to intimidation. Votes are counted locally but the totals are calculated
nationally, and seats in parliament are awarded in proportion to votes. A gang
that intimidates voters locally will have almost no impact on the national vote."
What an absurd thing to say. By the author's own admission, intimidation is
likely to be greater in the Sunni Arab heartland than in the Shi'ite south or
Kurdish north. Therefore, the differential rate of intimidation could keep Sunni
Arabs away from the polls in greater numbers than the other major ethnic groups,
producing that tyranny of the Shi'ite majority of which I warned.
"6. A boycott by Sunnis would be counterproductive. In the U.S.,
representation is allocated to each state according to population. Under national
lists, the weight of any region or strand of opinion is determined by turnout.
If Sunnis stay at home, Sunni candidates don't get elected."
In history, peoples have done many things that are counterproductive. The Shi'ites
of Bahrain boycotted the first free elections in that country recently, allowing
Sunni fundamentalists to dominate parliament in a country with a national Shi'ite
majority. This point assumes that the author's idea of what is rational is shared
by the people he is analyzing, the classic "mirror" problem.
"5. The coalition has trained a new Iraqi army, which is taking
on more and more of the security role."
Among the more ridiculous claims this author has made. The "new Iraqi army"
was largely useless in Fallujah, except for a handful of the braver Kurds and
"4. The turnout is going to be huge. Liberal journalists will report
on the day that turnout is disappointing, because they will only be counting
in Baghdad. When votes come in from Kurdish and Shia areas it will prove to
be even bigger than the American turnout, which itself was up by a fifth from
Big Kurdish and Shi'ite turnouts and a low Sunni Arab turnout would not in
fact be good news.
"3. People in Iraq are fed up with war."
The tens of thousands of Iraqis determinedly fighting a guerrilla war are not
fed up with war. They are prosecuting it.
"2. More and more people in Iraq have access to the Internet and other free
information sources. They no longer have to trust government propaganda. Al-Jazeera,
and a growing network of Iraqi bloggers – most of whom regard Americans as allies
– give Iraqis access to freedom of speech."
These same media are being used by the guerrillas and by the boycotting parties.
Many Sunni Arabs would not know that the Association of Muslim Scholars had
called for a boycott if it were not for al-Jazeera's interviews with its leaders.
"But the biggest reason the Iraqi elections will be a success is ...
"1. Western liberals who claim that Arabs don't want or aren't ready
for democracy are just wrong. What liberals call 'Western' values are human
values. Arabs want to be free and to govern themselves just as much as people
in Europe and America do."
"Western liberals" for the most part haven't said any such thing. It was the
British and American Right that overthrew the last freely elected, democratic
government of Iran in 1953. The French encouraged the Algerian military to cancel
the election results in 1991. Democracy in the Middle East has often been sought
by its peoples, and has had no bigger enemy than the right-wing parties of Europe
and the United States.
A statement such as "Arabs want to be free" is anyway mere propaganda. Which
Arabs? When? Under what circumstances? The millions of Shi'ites who support Moqtada
al-Sadr don't appear to me to want to be free of puritanical restrictions or
of charismatic authoritarianism. The millions of Sunni Arabs who are supporting
the guerrilla war, actively or passively, don't seem to want the kind of "freedom"
Langley is imposing on them. A majority of Iraqis clearly want a new, parliamentary
government to succeed, but significant minorities and maybe even a plurality
do not. Glib statements by Westerners about what "Arabs" want are the New Orientalism,
since the Western observers put themselves in the position of ventriloquists
for their pliant Arab lap puppets. We don't get to hear some of the real Arabs,
like Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, in American media. Langley gets to substitute himself
The success or failure of the political process in Iraq anyway has nothing to
do with yearning for democracy. It has to do with the frankly stupid policies
implemented by the Bush administration in Iraq. If the whole enterprise goes
bad, it won't be because the Iraqis couldn't live up to Mr. Langley's ideals.
It will be because the Americans, especially the neoconservatives, crafted a
ridiculous electoral system based on that of Israel.