by Gerry Foley – Feburary , 2005
The elections to the Iraqi transitional national assembly on Jan. 30 marked the first major political setback for the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
None of the problems and political pitfalls that the United States faced before the elections have been solved, and in the long run they may well become more difficult. But the vote has highlighted some threatening political weaknesses of the resistance.
The biggest weakness is the fact that the resistance is not united around a political program. Its fragmentation into reportedly 60 different groups, in
particular, has provided an opening for relatively small Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as the one led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, to take the front of the
It was primarily this group and similar fundamentalist groups that tried to defeat the election project of the U.S. and its local allies by threatening potential
voters with death. Al-Zarqawi even denounced democracy as such, saying that it was counter to God’s law and therefore voting was a sin punishable by death.
The fact that a substantial vote came out in the face of such threats in Shiite and Kurdish areas is what gives the U.S. and its local allies their main claim
to victory. Actually, between 35 and 50 would-be voters were killed by fundamentalist resistance groups, mainly in suicide bombings. Al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for most of the deaths.
Of course, the elections were not democracy. They were part of a U.S. plan to gain a political cover for the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the setting up of a subordinate regime. But the rule of ruthless killers claiming to take their orders directly from God is hardly an attractive alternative.
Moreover, the Al-Zarqawi group has been advocating a religious war against the Shiite sect, to which the majority of Iraqis belong, and has taken the credit
for the attempted assassination of Shiite clerics and indiscriminate slaughter of Shiite worshippers by car bombs. Nothing could play better into the hands of the U.S. occupation and its allies.
The ability of the occupation to head off a general insurrection depends on an alliance with the conservative Shiite clergy, in particular with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, an alliance that has been made possible only by the fact that the Shiites hoped that the U.S. invasion and occupation would allow them at least to get out from under the historic domination of politicians based on the minority Sunni sect.
Islamic fundamentalist groups have also tried to conduct a war against the Kurdish nationalist parties. The Kurds and Shiites together make up about 80
percent of the population of Iraq. Public opinion polls show that opposition to the U.S. occupation is overwhelming among both Shiites and Sunnis, although
significantly higher among the latter.
The ongoing resistance has been rooted among the Sunnis, about 20 percent of Iraqis, concentrated in the center of the country. Obviously, if the active
resistance is confined to the Sunnis, it will be vulnerable to repression.
(It has been reported that U.S. forces have killed or captured 15,000 resistance fighters over the last year, to say nothing of reducing a middle-sized Sunni city, Falluja, to ruins and proposing to build a giant outdoor prison on the wreckage. In the wake of the vote, the police chief in Mosul threatened a new
crackdown on the resistance.)
The relative success of the elections was almost entirely a result of the vote in the Shiite and Kurdish communities. Most of the Sunni organizations called for a boycott of the election or stood aside.
In some Sunni cities, the polls did not even open. Virtually no one voted in Samarra, for example, where the U.S. military claimed that it had cleared the
resistance out of the city on the eve of the assault on Falluja. In Mosul, Al Jazeera reported that U.S. soldiers were driving around appealing in vain to the local population to vote.
The U.S. authorities acknowledged that the Sunni vote was relatively small, although they tried to put the best face possible on it by saying that it was higher than they expected and that some Sunnis voted even in hot spots of the resistance. There was some Sunni voting, but most of it was probably a result of a fear of being isolated and an attempt to keep at least a foot in the institutions that would emerge from the election. A number of Sunni politicians were apparently hedging their bets.
It seemed that Moqtada Al Sadr, the strongest opponent of the occupation among the Shiite clergy, was also hedging his bets. His movement did not clearly oppose the elections until the last minute, when it gave a signal to boycott by not calling for participation rather than explicitly calling for a boycott. It claims that it did not run candidates, but the chiefs of the conservative Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, claim that 10 or 12 of their list’s 220
candidates were representatives of Al Sadr’s movement.
In the aftermath of the military and political defeat he suffered in the Najaf uprising in August, it seems that Al Sadr has shifted toward trying to mobilize the poor masses on economic issues. That can be a serious threat to the U.S. rulers and their local stooges since the invasion created an economic disaster that the privatizations imposed by the occupation will tend to perpetuate.
However, it is unlikely that Al Sadr will challenge the capitalist system as such, and that places a strict limitation on any solutions he may propose.
If a social revolution developed in Iraq, it would certainly overshadow bourgeois elections. But no such process has yet developed, and whether or not it does depends in no small way on the outcome of political tests such as this election represented.
The potentially biggest problem that the elections have posed for the U.S. is the fact that the major parties within the United Iraqi Alliance, which now
claims that it has won over 50 percent of the seats in the Constituent Assembly, have been closely linked to the Iranian clerical rulers. It was one of the glaring paradoxes of the election that both the Iranian and U.S. governments, while virtually at sword’s point, both called on Iraqis to vote.
The leaders of the coalition have been at pains to deny that they intend to impose a clerical or specifically Shiite regime. But it is hard to predict
how they will act when they are actually in the government.
However, the constitution adopted under U.S. overlordship has left the imperialist manipulators with a number of important cards. The national
assembly has to elect a president and two deputies by a two-thirds majority, who will then chose a premier and a party or coalition to form the government. That means that the formation of the actual government is going to be a result of complicated negotiations among political forces based essentially on ethnic and religious groups.
The United States, standing behind the scenes with its military and economic power, will have a lot of possibilities for maneuvering to prevent the emergence of any government hostile to it.
In fact, Ayatollah Al Sistani recognized the traps built into the interim constitution, which he said threatened to create a situation of permanent latent
civil war, such as existed in Lebanon. But he was obliged to accept it by his hopes that the Shiite clerics could gain the main influence in a new government based on it, and the need that the Shiite clerics will have for an alliance with the Kurds in order to rule the country.
And the Kurdish nationalists have accepted the U.S.-imposed rules of the game only to assure their autonomy in the north. The basic objective of most
Kurds is independence. They really do not care much what happens in Iraq as a whole unless it threatens them.
The deadliest card in the U.S. hand is the threat of civil war. This enables the imperialist rulers to present themselves as arbiters and the protectors of
the various ethnic and religious groups. This is what has made it possible despite the overwhelming unpopularity of the occupation, for a figure like the
president of the interim government, Ghazi Al Yawer, a Sunni, who has been critical of various U.S. policies and actions, to declare after the election that while the country is in the grip of "chaos," it would be "nonsense" to call for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
In this respect, despite the self-sacrifice of their fighters and the losses they have been able to inflict on the U.S. occupiers, the (Sunni) fundamentalist
groups strengthen the political hand of the imperialists. In its Feb. 1 issue, The Christian Science Monitor quoted an expert on Iran, Toby Dodge of Queen Mary University in London, as follows:
"Zarqawi is not the insurgency. If Zarqawi disappeared tomorrow, the insurgency would probably get stronger."
Dodge pointed out that the insurgency grew stronger after Saddam Hussein was captured, despite the U.S. claims that it would demoralize the rebels. In fact, the visible removal of the ousted dictator from the political scene took an albatross from around the necks of the resistance. The disappearance of
Al-Zarqawi and his group along with similar groups would remove an even bigger albatross from the neck of the insurgents.
In fact, the surest sign of the growing unpopularity of the Al Zarqawi group is spreading rumors that it is actually a tool of the U.S. This reflects an unfortunate tradition of trying to conjure away political problems by blaming them on imperialist plots. But the atmosphere created by the Islamic
fundamentalist groups does offer an opportunity for covert operations.
On Jan. 10, Pacifica Radio’s investigative program, “Democracy Now,” commented on an article in Newsweek stating that the U.S. rulers were considering "the Salvador Option" in Iraq—that is, the setting up of
clandestine death squads. The program host, Amy Goodman, interviewed Alan Nairn, who initially exposed the operation of the U.S.-sponsored death squads in El Salvador.
"Newsweek,” Nairn said, “described the Salvador option as the targeting of combatants and their sympathizers, and the key word is sympathizers. In El Salvador, and not just Salvador but about three dozen other countries, the U.S. government, in an integrated effort involving the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department, backed the creation of military units that targeted civilian activists.
“In Salvador, I interviewed many of the officers involved in running these squads. For example, General ‘Chele’ Medrano, who was on the CIA payroll, described how they picked their targets. He said, they targeted people who speak, and these are his words: ‘...against Yankee imperialism, against the oligarchy, against military men. These people are traitors to the country. What can the troops do, when they found them ... he kill them.’”
El Salvador is a good example of what the U.S. rulers mean by "democracy" in countries that they dominate. Despite elections, the governments remain corrupt. They maintain murder squads and do the bidding of their imperialist masters instead of those who vote for them, while mistakenly thinking that they are deciding their own fate.