"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Staged Elections of 2005

Staged elections are not new. They are “demonstration elections” and have been around for a long period of time. From Vietnam in the 1960s to the recent Afghanistan elections. “The purpose of these elections - crafted by the US - was to persuade US citizens and especially Congress that we were invading these countries and supporting a savage war against government opponents at the invitation of a legitimate, freely elected government. The main purpose of a demonstration election is to legitimise an invasion and occupation, not to choose a new government”, wrote Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.

Like the US elections of November 2004, the Iraqi “elections” of 2005 have received great deal of propaganda in Western and American mainstream media. Like the elections of November 2004, the elections of January 2005 are “non-elections”. They are US-crafted to “legitimise” and keep the same system in place. These elections bring no benefits to the people of Iraq. They are part of an imperial design to keep Iraq in foreign hands. They are staged elections.

Staged elections are directed at the peoples of the West, and particularly, the American people. The Iraqi people know that these elections are a sham designed to keep them forever poor, without civil and public services, and subjected them to foreign domination. They know that these elections are to legitimise the Occupation, not for the sake of “democracy”. For elections are not an end, they are part of a process. These elections show the naked and corrupt character of western democracy when packaged and forced on peoples in the Developing World.

From the beginning, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq. The Bush administration picked up a stooge and appointed him as “prime minister” in place of democracy. The Bush administration “stifled, delayed, manipulated and otherwise thwarted the democratic aspiration of the Iraqi people,” writes Canadian journalist and author, Naomi Klein. It was Washington who replaced the process of democracy with violence.

The only legitimate elections under foreign occupation must be in the form of a referendum on whether or not to end the US occupation. The Iraqi people have been denied this important choice. Instead, the Iraqi people were treated to the charade of fake democracy. “That democracy has been denied in Iraq is beyond question”, writes John Nichols of The Nation. The Occupation will continue, “as democracy takes hold in Iraq, America's mission there will continue”, as part of controlling the oil reserves and establishing military bases against the wishes of the Iraqi people who rejected the elections and stayed indoors.

It was hardly the elections’ day people are used to. It was a day of war, similar to the first day of that illegal US war of aggression. Iraqis cuddled their children and stayed home praying for food, water and electricity. Unless paid by Allawi’s gang and loaded on trucks with Iraqi flags, most Iraqis ignored this “American movie”. The veteran journalist, Robert Fisk, of The Independent writes, “Many Iraqis do not know the names of the candidates, let alone their policies, [because it was secret]. But there will be democracy in Iraq”, the democracy of enslavement to US imperialism.

Are there any doubts that, the US-created stooge, Iyad Allawi, will not continue his current position of Occupation spokesman? According to the Washington Post, Allawi’s gang threatened Iraqis if they do not vote (for Allawi), they will not get their monthly food rations, the miracle of Saddam, which is keeping the Iraqi people out of starvation.

Under these elections, Iraqis had two choices, lose your card (Saddam's old food-distribution cards) and starve, or go out and vote for the fraudulent elections. About 3 million Iraqis were forced to venture out of their homes to vote in the mid of violence. It is this violence that will keep Allawi and his masters in their positions. These are truly “historic elections” for the US dream of “spreading democracy”.

Contrary to western media, the elations were a sham and most Iraqis boycotted them. Heavily fortified polling centres were deserted and streets empty as Iraqis stayed home on Sunday, too frightened or angry to vote in these elections. Over 40 percent of the Iraqi population live in the four provinces that boycoted the US-crafted elections and rejected the Occupation. Furthermore, according to Al-jazeera, “voter turnout in Baghdad was poor, especially in the al-Yarmuk, al-Amiriya, and al-Adhamiya districts - the main population centres in central and western Baghdad”. The same was in Samarra, a city of 200,000 people.

The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that of the 4 million Iraqis living outside Iraq, only 280,303 people registered to vote. Imagine what the numbers are like inside Iraq. “It was hard to describe the vote as legitimate, when whole portions of the country can't vote and doesn't vote”, Democrat Senator John Kerry, warned. In a word, the elections were illegitimate and do not represent the Iraqi people. Peoples of the West, and particularly, the American people should be ashamed of this travesty of democracy imposed on other peoples in their name.

Staged elections are not new. They are “demonstration elections” and have been around for a long period of time. From Vietnam in the 1960s to the recent Afghanistan elections. “The purpose of these elections - crafted by the US - was to persuade US citizens and especially Congress that we were invading these countries and supporting a savage war against government opponents at the invitation of a legitimate, freely elected government. The main purpose of a demonstration election is to legitimise an invasion and occupation, not to choose a new government”, wrote Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.

For the Americans, “what happens before or after the elections concerns them not one iota. What matters is that the elections become a good PR exercise for the Bush administration”, Wamid Nadhim of Baghdad University told Al-Ahram Weekly. Furthermore, these elections are also seen as an excuse for Tony Blair and other “coalition of the willing” leaders to justify their support for Washington’s illegal war of aggression and occupation.

Like the war, these staged elections are illegal and against Iraq’s interests. Peoples in the “civilised” world should reject these elections, demand the immediate withdraw of US forces from Iraq and the liberation of the Iraqi people.

If George Bush is smart enough, he can use these “historic elections”, as an “exit strategy”, and withdraws his army from Iraq. The Iraqi people will remember the elections that guaranteed them freedom and liberty from foreign occupation.

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth Western Australia. He can be reached at e-mail: G.Hassan@exchange.curtin.edu.au

Why I Am Obsessed With War

George Bush was reinaugurated in Washington last week. Fittingly, the inauguration parade route was lined the entire way with armed guards – so many armed guards that they had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. As with the rest of America, Washington, D.C. was in a state of siege.

The militant air of the entire affair was very much like a parade in the old Soviet Union or even in Nazi Germany.

And in his speech, George Bush proclaimed his desire for world domination – to have the power and the right to decide who is good and who is bad, who shall live and who shall die, what form of government will exist in each nation.

He made it clear that if he has a use for your government, you will keep it – no matter how oppressive.

But if your government doesn't suit him, if it declares its independence from the United States, we will "liberate" your country and impose what we call "democracy" on it – no matter how advanced your civilization, no matter how much or how little your people may approve of your current form of government.

Of course, by "we" he meant George Bush.

George Bush is, in effect, the ruler of the world – more powerful than the United Nations, more powerful than the countries of Europe, more powerful than the Congress of the United States, more powerful than the people of the United States – a majority of whom now believe that George Bush was wrong to invade Iraq. But that majority opinion has no effect on George Bush, who continues to try to impose His way upon Iraq, and who most likely now has His sights set on Iran.

My Obsession

If you’ve been reading my articles or listening to my radio show, you may be aware of how much attention I’ve given to this drive for world domination – dressed up as the "War on Terror" and "Operation Iraqi Freedom." I’ve written over and over about these wars.

You might say I’m obsessed with war.

And you’d be right.

I’m obsessed with war because of what war really is. And because of what war is doing to America.

Why am I so obsessed?


A January 21st editorial in The Wall Street Journal summed up George Bush’s inauguration speech very neatly:

The entire speech was about Iraq, as a way of explaining to Americans why the sacrifice our troops are making there is justified.

Aye, and there’s the rub.

Troops don’t sacrifice. Only individuals can sacrifice. For some of them, the sacrifice is a year out of their lives. For others, the sacrifice is in living for a year or more in constant fear and danger.

But for too many, the sacrifice is one’s life. The loss of one’s whole life.

That’s not the same as giving a tenth of your income to the church, or working 15 hours a week in a soup kitchen, or spending a day a week helping out at a nursing home. When you sacrifice your life, you give up everything. The world has ended. What you were no longer exists. No more life, no more love, no more music, no more sports, no more breathing, no more interest in anything.

And when you’ve sacrificed your life, it no longer matters whether Iraq is "liberated" or oppressed, because you don’t exist any more. It no longer matters whether George Bush is a great leader or a megalomaniac, because you no longer have a life with which to be affected by it. You are no more.

George Bush can speak cavalierly about such sacrifices. He can say "freedom is always worth it." He can speak with gratitude about such sacrifices – because he is making no sacrifice whatsoever.

He can tell young people that when you die "you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character."

But he is not the Messiah. He can’t bring those dead people back to life. He can not restore their ability to taste love, to enjoy fellowship, to pursue a career, to bask in the sheer joy of being alive.

He can’t return to a mother her dead son. He can’t return to a wife her dead husband. He can’t bring a dead soldier back to raise his children. He can’t do anything to restore what he has stolen from people with his glib assurances about WMDs, mobile bioweapons labs, unmanned planes dropping chemical weapons on the East Coast of the United States, about freedom always being worth the price – a price that to him is effectively zero.

The dead are dead, and they can’t come back. They won’t dance at any inaugural balls – or even attend their alumni reunions. They won’t attend presidential banquets – or even eat at the local coffee shop. Not ever again.

They are dead. And George Bush killed them. He killed them as certainly as though he personally had fired a rocket launcher at their homes.

Who or What Is He?

If he didn’t know that his plan to "liberate" people who hadn’t asked to be liberated, to bring democracy to people who hadn’t asked for democracy, would lead to the deaths of thousands of people, he is not only incompetent and unfit to hold office, he is surely psychopathic and needs to be incarcerated.

Only a psychopath would stand in the midst of thousands of security guards and speak of "the force of human freedom."

Only a man so insulated from the real world by palace sycophants, by little Napoleons filled with utopian fantasies, and by callous, ambitious schemers to whom the lives of others mean nothing – only a man so insulated could possibly speak of "the expansion of freedom in all the world."

Only a man with no link to reality could start a war that destroys lives and families and then say, "Every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth."

Only a snake oil salesman can rain missiles and bombs on other countries and then say that no "human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies."

Only a man divorced from human reason can imprison people – possibly for life – without due process of law and then say that "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."

Only a liar can proclaim that he will decide which countries must be remade and then say, "No one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave."

Only a devious schemer can announce a goal of "ending tyranny in our world" while he is imposing a new tyranny in his own country – our country.

So you tell me: what kind of a President do we have?

And what has he given us other than wars, fear, and a state of siege?

Why the Obsession?

Yes, I have become obsessed with these wars.

Josef Stalin is reputed to have said that a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths only a statistic.

But no matter how many people die in Iraq, every single one of them is a tragedy – a tragedy I will neither ignore nor forget. And that’s why I’m obsessed with this war.

I’m obsessed with each and every death – because in fact each and every death is more than a statistic or a tragedy. It’s murder.

I will never forget the people, American or Iraqi, whose lives have been irrevocably destroyed – the people who have been murdered, the people who lost those they love, the people whose homes have been smashed to bits, the people who are maimed for the rest of the only lives they will ever live.

And neither will I ever forget who it is that killed them.

They were killed by a relatively small group in Washington who believe they were put there by God to remake the world – not remake it in God’s image, but in Their own.

I believe it is a crime to take the life of another person. And no murder of an innocent person can be justified by saying it was necessary to achieve some larger goal – whether or not that goal is claimed to be a worthy one.

When reformers create murder and mayhem, they justify it by saying, "You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." But it’s always someone else’s eggs that get broken. And the omelet never materializes – even after millions of eggs are broken, as they were during the two World Wars.


Yes, I’m obsessed with war.

I’m obsessed with war because I’m obsessed with life.

I love life. I love my wife Pamela. I love being in love with her. I love the 19 years we’ve been playing house together – pretending we’re grown-ups, just like our parents.

I love music. I love food. I love reading. I love sports. I even love sleeping. I taste and love so many parts of life.

I don’t ever want to die.

And I don’t want anyone else to die – except maybe those who treat life so trivially that they can speak of the sacrifice of other people’s lives as being a worthwhile price to pay for some idealistic goal they believe they will achieve – a goal that will give them an exalted position in the history books.

Reformers such as George Bush are like children playing games based on fantasies. They see no reason to discover whether others before them have harbored the same ambitions – and failed miserably to achieve their goals. It’s of no concern to them that without an understanding of the history and cultures of other peoples, they have no hope either to persuade or to dominate other people.

And they pay no attention to the fact that in the process of "ending tyranny in our world" they are imposing a new tyranny in their own country – our country.

Yes, I’m obsessed with war.

I’m obsessed with war because I love life.

And so I will continue to fight against America’s wars with every bit of strength, with every bit of talent, with every resource I can spare.

Harry Browne [ HarryBrowne@HarryBrowne.org], the author of Why Government Doesn't Work and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

The Story of the Ghost

"United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam."

- Peter Grose, in a page 2 New York Times article titled, 'U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote,' September 4, 1967.

January 30, 2005 | A mortar attack at a polling station in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad killed at least three people.
(Photo: AP)

In all the media hoopla over Sunday's "election" in Iraq, a few details got missed.

The powerful and influential Association of Muslim Scholars is not buying the idea that there was some great democratic breakthrough with this vote. AMS spokesman Muhammad al-Kubaysi responded to the election by saying, "The elections are not a solution to the Iraqi problem, because this problem is not an internal dispute to be resolved through accords and elections. It lies in the presence of a foreign power that occupies this country and refuses even the mere scheduling of the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq."

"We have consistently argued," continued al-Kubaysi, "that elections can only occur in a democracy that enjoys sovereignty. Our sovereignty is incomplete. Our sovereignty is usurped by foreign forces that have occupied our land and hurt our dignity. These elections... are a means of establishing the foreign forces in Iraq and keeping Iraq under the yoke of occupation. They should have been postponed."

Al-Kubaysi likewise raised grave concerns about low turnout in Sunni areas such as Baghdad, Baquba and Samarra, and stated flatly that the deep secrecy that shrouded the candidates themselves invalidated the process. "The voter goes to the polling stations not knowing who he is voting for in the first place," he said. "There are more than 7,700 candidates, and I challenge any Iraqi voter to name more than half a dozen. Their names have not been announced but have been kept secret. Elections should never have been held under these present circumstances."

The American media is painting these newly-minted Iraqi voters as flush with the thrill of casting a ballot. In truth, however, some other more pressing motivations lay behind their rush to the polling places. Dahr Jamail, writing for Inter Press Service, reported that "Many Iraqis had expressed fears before the election that their monthly food rations would be cut if they did not vote. They said they had to sign voter registration forms in order to pick up their food supplies. Just days before the election, 52 year-old Amin Hajar, who owns an auto garage in central Baghdad, had said, 'I'll vote because I can't afford to have my food ration cut. If that happened, me and my family would starve to death.'"

'Will Vote For Food' is not a spectacular billboard for the export of democracy.

"Where there was a large turnout," continued Jamail, "the motivation behind the voting and the processes both appeared questionable. The Kurds up north were voting for autonomy, if not independence. In the south and elsewhere Shias were competing with Kurds for a bigger say in the 275-member national assembly. In some places like Mosul the turnout was heavier than expected. But many of the voters came from outside, and identity checks on voters appeared lax. Others spoke of vote-buying bids. More than 30 Iraqis, a U.S. soldier, and at least 10 British troops died Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis were also wounded in attacks across Baghdad, in Baquba 50km northeast of the capital as well as in the northern cities Mosul and Kirkuk."

Perhaps the most glaring indication that this "election" did little to settle the bloody reality in Iraq came three days before the ballots were cast. In a letter to congress dated January 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the 'D' word.

Project Censored, the organization that tracks important yet wildly under-reported stories, declared the existence, motivations and influence of PNAC to be the #1 censored media story for 2002-2003. Most t r u t h o u t readers are familiar with PNAC, but for those who missed this story, a quick refresher is required.

The first vital fact about PNAC has to do with its membership roll call: Dick Cheney, Vice President of the United States, former CEO of Halliburton; Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Elliot Abrams, National Security Council; John Bolton, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security; I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's top National Security assistant. This list goes on.

These people didn't enjoy those fancy titles in 2000, when the PNAC manifesto 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' was first published. Before 2000, these men were just a bunch of power players who got shoved out of government in 1993. In the time that passed between Clinton and those hanging chads, these people got together in PNAC and laid out a blueprint. 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' was the ultimate result. 2000 became 2001, and the PNAC boys suddenly had the fancy titles and a chance to swing some weight.

'Rebuilding America's Defenses' became the roadmap for foreign policy decisions made in the White House and the Pentagon; PNAC had the Vice President's office in one building, and the Defense Secretary's office in the other. Attacking Iraq was central to that roadmap from the beginning. When former Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke accused the Bush administration of focusing on Iraq to the detriment of addressing legitimate threats, he was essentially denouncing them for using the attacks of September 11 as an excuse to execute the PNAC blueprint.

The goals codified in 'Rebuilding America's Defenses,' the manifesto, can be boiled down to a few sentences: The invasion and occupation of Iraq, for reasons that had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. The building of several permanent military bases in Iraq, the purpose of which are to telegraph force throughout the region. The takeover by Western petroleum corporations of Iraq's nationalized oil industry. The ultimate destabilization and overthrow of a variety of regimes in the Middle East, friend and foe alike, by military or economic means, or both.

"Indeed," it is written on page 14 of 'Rebuilding America's Defenses,' "the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

In the last three years, PNAC has gotten every single thing it placed on its wish list back in 2000. This is why their letter to congress last week is so disturbing. The letter reads in part:

The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. While estimates vary about just how large an increase is required, and Congress will make its own determination as to size and structure, it is our judgment that we should aim for an increase in the active duty Army and Marine Corps, together, of at least 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution places the power and the duty to raise and support the military forces of the United States in the hands of the Congress. That is why we, the undersigned, a bipartisan group with diverse policy views, have come together to call upon you to act. You will be serving your country well if you insist on providing the military manpower we need to meet America's obligations, and to help ensure success in carrying out our foreign policy objectives in a dangerous, but also hopeful, world.

Brush aside the patriotic language, and you have the ideological architects of this disastrous Iraq invasion stating flatly that the American military is being bled dry, and that the ranks must be replenished before that military can be used to push into Iran, Syria and the other targeted nations. The 'D' word is not in this letter, but it screams out from between the lines. All the lip service paid to the Iraq elections by these people does not contrast well with their cry for more warm bodies to feed into the meat grinder.

Lyndon Johnson was excited about voter turnout in Vietnam in September 1967. Eight years, three Presidents and millions of dead people later, that excitement proved to have been wretchedly illusory. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever, to believe that the Iraq election we witnessed this weekend will bring anything other than death and violence to the people of that nation and our soldiers who move among them. History repeats itself only when we are stupid enough to miss the lessons learned in past failures. The wheel is coming around again.

Author's Note | The fascinating New York Times article on the Vietnam election in 1967 was first located and published by patachon on the DailyKos blog forum.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.'

Iraq Election: Sistani's Triumph

The voter registration list consisted of nearly 14 million names in the food-ration public-distribution database, and the implication that if you didn't vote you didn't get your ration card renewed was less than subtle. As Khalid, a young Iraqi blogger, related:

"[T]he way the voting happened, is that you go to the voting center, and you go to the man that is your ration dealer, the one that you take the ration from him every month, so you tell him that you are gonna vote, he marks your name on his list, and then you vote!!!
that way the goverment will know exactly who voted and who didnt, two dealers said that the next years' card won't be given to those who didnt vote.."

That so many registered voters didn't show up at the polls, in spite of this sort of intimidation, should tell us something about the depth of the split that sunders Iraqi society.

A victory for the Ayatollah – and a possible exit strategy for the U.S.

The man most responsible for Iraq's election didn't vote because he wasn't eligible.

No, not George W. Bush – I mean the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al-Sistani, the man who single-handedly faced down the Americans, demanded direct elections rather than the "caucus" system the occupation authorities wanted to impose, and called his people out into the streets when the Coalition Provisional Authority refused to give way. Here's a good timeline with pertinent details.

The original Bush plan was to install a puppet regime with the Americans holding the leash while a constitution was being written by a couple of policy wonks over at AEI and their best Iraqi pal, Ahmed "Hero in Error" Chalabi. But the Ayatollah quashed that without firing a shot: instead, he fired off a fatwa – the Muslim equivalent of a papal encyclical – that condemned the American plan as "fundamentally unacceptable" and demanded that the writing of Iraq's constitution be turned over to an elected assembly of Iraqis.

"There is no guarantee that the council would create a constitution conforming with the greater interests of the Iraqi people and expressing the national identity," thundered the Ayatollah, "whose basis is Islam, and its noble social values."

Having gotten his way, Sistani then set about cobbling together a pro-Shi'ite list of candidates, one that even included such ostensibly secular figures as Chalabi and some Sadrists, as well as the mainstream Shi'ite parties, SCIRI and Dawa. Sunday's election will mark the triumph of the Ayatollah's vision: all indications point to a victory for the Sistani list, made all the more overwhelming by a Sunni participation rate that looks (as of this moment: 2:52 PST on Sunday) to be somewhere very close to single digits.

That's some pretty successful hardball politics for an Ayatollah widely described as belonging to the nonpolitical "quietist" wing of Shi'ite Islam.

Sistani made it a religious duty to vote, but didn't do so himself because he's a citizen of Iran, having been born there, in the holy city of Mashad in 1930. More than once during the campaign, Iyad Allawi's National Accord party denounced the Sistani-approved coalition as "the Iranian list," with Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan practically issuing a declaration of war as he pronounced Tehran the "most dangerous enemy of Iraq." Not Zarqawi, not the Ba'athists, but Iran – that's the big danger, and President Bush seemed to echo (or is it the other way around?) this fear of Iranian interference in the days leading up to the election. At a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, he said:

"We will continue to make it clear, to both Syria and Iran that, as will other nations in our coalition ... that meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interests. We expect people to work with the Iraqi interim government to enforce the border to stop the flow of people and money that aim to help these terrorists."

Is Bush accusing the Iranians of arming and funding the Sunni-Ba'athist insurgents? This hardly seems likely. More probably, Bush was warning them to stop funding their Iraqi proxies. The top candidate on Sistani's list is the former leader of the military wing of the SCIRI, the leading fundamentalist Shi'ite party that was headquartered in Tehran during Saddam's reign. He was armed and succored by the Iranian government for all those years, and there is no reason to believe that the relationship has ended, only that it is a little more discreet. The Dawa party has a similar history: given shelter by the Iranians during the years of Ba'athist rule, these groups never accepted American aid or direction and refused to gather under the Chalabi-led umbrella group of Iraqi exiles.

The bizarre aspect of all this is that it now looks like Chalabi was an Iranian agent all along, and is going to pop up as a high official in the new government, perhaps interior minister or even president. This latter post is largely ceremonial, but it does have one major perk: the new president will get a vote, along with his two vice presidents, to decide who gets to be prime minister, an office with sweeping powers, including the title of commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Although results are not in, and won't be for at least 24 hours, preliminary figures indicate a turnout of anywhere from half to 60 percent of registered voters, especially heavy in Shi'ite and Kurdish regions. The voter registration list consisted of nearly 14 million names in the food-ration public-distribution database, and the implication that if you didn't vote you didn't get your ration card renewed was less than subtle. As Khalid, a young Iraqi blogger, related:

"[T]he way the voting happened, is that you go to the voting center, and you go to the man that is your ration dealer, the one that you take the ration from him every month, so you tell him that you are gonna vote, he marks your name on his list, and then you vote!!!
that way the goverment will know exactly who voted and who didnt, two dealers said that the next years' card won't be given to those who didnt vote.."

That so many registered voters didn't show up at the polls, in spite of this sort of intimidation, should tell us something about the depth of the split that sunders Iraqi society. The nonvoters – in this context, the complete rejectionists – polled more than any single party. This result should dampen the oddly artificial triumphalism of the moment and let us give thought to what this election portends.

The high turnout in Shi'ite areas puts the Sistani-blessed United Iraqi Alliance in the lead and ensures the influence of minorities such as the Kurdish groups and the Iraqi Communist Party will be disproportionately felt in the National Assembly. I have seen polls that give Allawi's party as little as under 10 percent of the vote, and in any case Iraqis seem to blame him for the current mess. Part of the reason for his declining popularity is because Iraqis identify him with the occupation – perhaps because he was flown around in an American military aircraft on the campaign trail. I wouldn't be surprised if Allawi is marginalized by these elections and the U.S. puts its chips on their old partner-in-crime, Ahmed Chalabi. American officials are already starting to "reach out" to Chalabi, as New York Times reporter Judith Miller put it on MSNBC's Hardball, offering him all sorts of plum positions in the new Iraqi Cabinet.

While the War Party hails these elections as a triumph of Bush's inaugural exhortations to export "democracy" to every corner of the globe, Brent Scowcroft wisely worries that this election could lead to civil war. Scowcroft is right to be worried: there is a sense in which the election results have to be seen as a choosing up of sides, a measure of the balance of forces in post-Ba'athist Iraq. We are arrived at the moment when two fighters meet for the first time in the ring and size each other up. In one corner, we have the Shi'ite majority that wants an "Islamic republic" roughly drawn up along Iranian lines, and in the other corner we have everyone else. Who will throw the first punch?

Given the long-standing grudge matches that have pitted the various ethnic and religious groupings in Iraq against each other, I wouldn't rule out a few slugfests in the National Assembly as it decides such sensitive issues as the nature and degree of Kurdish autonomy. The postelection wrangling and backroom deal-making have already begun, and it won't be long now before accusations of fraud, vote-buying, and ballot-box stuffing are heard. (I wonder about the relatively large number of absentee votes from Iran, as opposed to the U.S., England, and Australia, as shown in this graph.)

However, as long as they're just duking it out in the Green Zone, or wherever sessions of the National Assembly are held, and not shooting it out in the streets of Iraq's cities, this administration can take credit for orchestrating what seemed to be an impossible task, which was holding the election at all.

Now they need to follow up on that success – because it may prove as ephemeral as all the rest of those "mission accomplished" moments. Just as the imagery of the statue of Saddam being pulled down masked the real question of what to do with Iraq once we had conquered it, so the many photo opportunities afforded by this election mask the harsh realities of America's role as a colonial power in the Middle East.

There is a tragic nobility in the determination of so many Iraqis to defy threats of terrorism and bravely show up to cast their votes, clearly and visibly inspired by Western ideals and the desire to live normal, decent lives in spite of everything. The tragedy is that they are being manipulated by cynical politicians and their foreign paymasters, who are conspiring to dismantle the Iraqi nation – and with the fragments kindle another war.

Seen from the perspective of the Iranians and the disparate secessionist movements, including the Kurdish parties, that threaten the integrity of the Iraqi state, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a golden opportunity they cannot allow to pass without grasping what they can, while they can. It was only natural that, like predators who quickly fall upon a wounded or dead rival, the neighboring states and rebellious minorities within would grab a bite out of the Iraqi carcass while it's still fresh. All the diners at the feast have their seat at the table, now, as Iraq's National Assembly meets and decides the nation's fate.

The elements of an emerging conflict are there, not least of all the emergence of a Shi'ite regime in the heart of a country with a long tradition of secularism and rule by the Sunni minority elite. The Sunnis' boycott and majority support for the insurgency, in the face of the consolidation of a Shi'ite-dominated government, means a civil war along religious lines: one that could easily draw in Iraq's neighbors, including Saudi Arabia as well as Iran and Syria. These centrifugal forces, combined with the rising demand for Kurdish independence, threaten to tear Iraq's nascent democracy apart. Yet it is the democratic process itself that makes the collision of interests leading to civil war all too probable.

Democracy in Iraq means majority rule: there is no concept of constitutionally limited government. The Kurds, for example, want veto power over legislation that impinges on their autonomy, and this was enshrined in the "interim constitution" written by the Americans. But Sistani objected to this quite vehemently, and, given the projected make-up of the new government, he is likely to have his way.

The administration can rightly claim success in creating, if only for a day, the security conditions that made the election possible. But they can't keep Iraq in lockdown forever. After the three-day lockdown, the roads will be opened, the border controls will be relaxed, the insurgency will continue to take its deadly toll – and the momentum for a political settlement will begin. Pressure for a negotiated settlement with some of the insurgent groups is bound to come from within the elected government, and this is the beginning of an exit strategy for the U.S. and Great Britain. If the elected government can act as a mediator between some elements in the insurgency and the occupiers, and come up with a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops, that would give the Bush administration the chance to follow this success with another – by beginning to talk about when the Americans are going to start coming home.

This president will come to Congress with his hand out, asking for $80 billion-plus for "nation-building," and many Republicans are asking: where and when does it end? As American casualties mount, and the War Party whoops it up for a bigger and more expensive military machine, George W. Bush has an opportunity to gracefully exit the Iraqi stage. Saddam is vanquished: Iraq has an elected government. Let the militias of the parties that form the new government merge to form a new national army; let the Badr Corps, now the Badr Organization, which was trained by the Iranians, become the core of the new national army – we'll save a lot of money on that deal. Let them make a deal with Sunni resistance, or, short of that, let them fight it out on their own.

Why should one more American soldier die for the "Islamic Republic of Iraq"? The only alternative to withdrawal is a 10-year long battle against an intractable insurgency and the threat of a wider war. It's high time we declared victory and brought our troops home. If the Iraqi people are going to have democracy, or their version of it anyway, then they must be willing to fight and die for it. We've done more than our share.

– Justin Raimondo

The Iraqi Ballot, Translated

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 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:

1. Do you prefer to be tortured by A) American soldiers or B) British soldiers?

2. When occupying soldiers stop you in the street, would you rather be strip-searched A) with blindfold or B) without blindfold?

3. 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.]

4. Which of the following CIA-paid Iraqis should represent you? [The list is too long to reprint here.]

5. 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:

6. Which media outlet should hold the copyright to the pictures of your torture?

7. 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?

8. Which American company do you believe should be awarded a monopoly on Iraq's oil?

After reading all the questions, I did the same thing I'd done in 1995 and 2002. I left the ballot blank and walked out.

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.

Hawra Karama