I had the opportunity to participate in the long-awaited
Iraqi elections this weekend. Contrary to popular belief, this was not
the first time my opinion has mattered to the Iraqi state. It was actually the
third. Saddam Hussein had asked us Iraqis in both 1995 and 2002 if we wanted him
to be our leader. The question sounded rather silly, considering the amount of
Iraqi, Iranian, and Kuwaiti blood on his hands. Nevertheless, in both referenda,
Saddam's approval ratings exceeded 99 percent. That statistic could not have been
accurate, could it? Did the Iraqis really want even more years of crushing tyranny,
war with neighbors, and ethnic cleansing?
In retrospect, I could come up with dozens of theories on the shocking outcome
of the two referenda. Maybe only Ba'athists participated in the polls. Maybe
people were too afraid to say they didn't want Saddam. Maybe the chads of those
who did cast a "no" vote were hanging. In any case, I shouldn't waste
so much time analyzing the past. The bottom line is that there is no such thing
as democracy under dictatorship. My time today is better spent taking advantage
of democracy under foreign occupation.
I hesitated before voting for reasons familiar to anyone who follows the news.
But then I thought of the disappointment on the faces of my American guests
if I did not accept the democracy they brought me. I didn't want their feelings
to be hurt. I didn't want them to think that the residents of the Cradle of Civilization
are not civilized. So I mustered the courage to go to the voting site nearest
my house in Baghdad.
Initially, I thought I was at the American embassy
because there were so many American soldiers standing
outside. I checked my registration slip. I did in fact
have the correct address. So I took a deep breath and
walked in. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that
Iraqi authorities had requested American troops'
presence because they needed help making Iraqi tea for
the voters. Their desire was to make the democratic
process feel as close to home as possible.
A young soldier from Texas served me a cup of Iraqi hospitality. Then I nervously
proceeded toward the voting booth. My heart was racing, and tears flooded my
eyes as I thought of the price that was paid to make this moment happen. On
a personal level, my niece had suffered severe burns on her arms and legs when
bombs shook Baghdad in March 2003. My backyard was converted into a parking
spot for an American tank. More broadly, over a hundred thousand of my countrymen
had to be killed, and many more had to be wounded and disabled. Many American
families had to mourn the loss of their loved ones in the military. The environment
was sentenced to suffer for the next several centuries. Politicians in the White
House and Parliament had gone out of their way just to ensure that my cup of
tea had the right amount of sugar while I expressed whom I thought should hold
the magic wand to make all my agony go away.
I wiped my tears, pulled myself together, sipped the last drops in my cup,
and went into the voting booth. By taking one quick glance at the ballot placed
in front of me, I could immediately tell that this experience was going to be
differentfrom its 1995 and 2002 predecessors. On those two occasions, I was
asked only one question about one tyrant. "Do you want Saddam Hussein to
be your president? A) Yes. B) No."
This election, on the other hand, gave me a variety of choices on numerous
issues. Behold the multitude of questions I was asked:
- Do you prefer to be tortured by A) American soldiers or B) British soldiers?
- When occupying soldiers stop you in the street, would you rather be
strip-searched A) with blindfold or B) without blindfold?
- When foreign soldiers enter your house in the middle of the night to
arrest your husband and terrorize your kids, would you prefer that they A)
knock or B) ring the doorbell? [This question seemed odd because I thought
they knew we don't have electricity and therefore the doorbells don't work.]
- Which of the following CIA-paid Iraqis should represent you? [The list
is too long to reprint here.]
- Do you want the foreign forces occupying your country to leave? A) No.
[I imagine they had accidentally forgotten to print "Yes."]
To make sure our voices were being fully heard, some of the questions were
open ended. Voters were actually allowed to write in their opinions on a number
of issues. Observe:
- Which media outlet should hold the copyright to the pictures of your
- The occupation has violated the sanctity of the holy sites in Najaf and
Karbala and bombed many mosques in Baghdad and Falluja. Are there any other
holy sites you believe the occupation has missed?
- Which American company do you believe should be awarded a monopoly on
After reading all the questions, I did the same thing
I'd done in 1995 and 2002. I left the ballot blank and
On my way out of the voting site, an American soldier handed me a sticker
with the words "I voted" printed on it. He looked perplexed as I stuck
it on his rifle and left.