Nowhere it is more obvious than in Iraq that the existence
of an election law, elections themselves and the constitution they are based on
are not indicators of democracy or legitimacy, because these mechanisms are
merely symbols of the antithesis of the mechanisms of democracy as practiced
back home by the U.S. occupying power.
An editorial in The Washington Post on December 8 hailed the
passing two days earlier of an amended version of the 2005 election law by the
Iraqi �Council of Representatives� (CoR) as a �Breakthrough in Iraq,� which
�gives democracy a chance to work.� However if this statement is not
misleading, then it is extremely too optimistic, at least for one reason: The
Iraqis themselves had another say.
The new version was vetoed by none other than Vice-President
Tareq al-Hashemi. On November 23, under U.S. excessive pressure, including a
phone call from President Barak Obama to Kurdistan Regional Government head
Masoud Barzani, the CoR passed another amended version of the law without
addressing al-Hashemi�s demands to increase the representation in parliament of
displaced people, internally and abroad, from 5 percent of the total to 15
percent, which indicates yielding to U.S. pressure by al-Hashemi, nor did it
address the Kurds� threat to boycott the elections if their demands in Kirkuk
were not met, in another indication of yielding to U.S. pressure by the Kurds,
although it did meet their complaint for more parliamentary seats.
Rachel Schneller, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S.
State Department writing for the Council on Foreign Relations on December 4,
warned that the latest version of the Iraqi election law could make things
worse in Iraq if approved. The Sunnis, including Hashemi, could resort to
�desperate measures� to gain power as the new election law provoked claims of
Shiite dominance. Schneller wrote that elections in Iraq are not a sign of
stability. �The United States would do well to back away from the policy of
elections at any cost,� she concluded.
Obama�s administration had a different point of view. U.S.
diplomats, notably Washington�s ambassador in Baghdad, Christopher Hill, had
pushed MPs to pass the law, which they did in the wake of a meeting between a
US delegation, including US Forces Commander in Iraq General Raymond Odierno
and deputy US Ambassador to Baghdad Robert Ford, and the Iraqi president Jalal
Talibani. The White House said the move was �a decisive moment for Iraq�s
democracy.� White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. welcomed the new
law. �This legislative action will allow Iraq to hold national elections within
Iraq�s constitutional framework,� he said. Earlier, Obama had hailed the Iraqi
elections next year as a �significant breakthrough� and a �milestone . . . that
can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq.� The administration sees the
election as a prerequisite to the U.S. meeting its goal of releasing more
combat troops for the Afghani theatre by August next year, and redeploying its
combatants fully by 2012, whatever the cost might be to Iraqis.
The carnage left by a series of coordinated attacks by car
bombs and suicide bombers on December 15, December 8, October 25 and August 19,
which struck at the symbols of what the U.S. hopes would be a burgeoning pro-Western
government, if not a puppet regime, in and near the heavily protected Green
Zone, which houses the largest U.S. Embassy in the world, the Iraqi Parliament
and other government offices and embassies in Baghdad, claiming more than 500
lives and hundreds of wounded, and inflicting devastating damage on public
order infrastructure, is a stark and humiliating proof of the U.S. failure, and
not only a failure of a proxy Iraqi government, in securing even the Iraqi
capital after nearly seven years of the U.S.�led invasion of Iraq.
Those bloody demonstrations of insecurity cast serious doubt
on the planned imminent redeployment of U.S. troops. �The American role is
necessary now in Iraq, not only to maintain security but to maintain political
stability,� Hameed Fadhel, a political science professor at Baghdad University
told Asia Times on Dec 15. �The Iraqi people no longer trust their
politicians,� added Tariq Harb, a member of Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki�s
State of Law alliance.
Sadi Pira, a politburo member of the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, PUK, one of the two dominant Kurdish parties, was more vocal on
maintaining the U.S. �military role� in Iraq: The latest bombings in Baghdad,
along with unrest in Mosul and Kirkuk, �proves that the Iraqi forces are not
able to control the cities or the borders. If the U.S. position is to extend
the [stay] of the remaining coalition forces, it is not bad for Iraq,� Pira
told the Times.
Such statements vindicate the U.S. officials who were quoted
by Reuters on December 10 as saying that the 60-day period after Iraq�s
election will probably reveal whether the country will tip back into sectarian
bloodshed or move toward stability and peace. But more importantly, the
immediate aftermath of the upcoming elections would reveal whether the U.S.
troops would redeploy on time. The U.S. force in Iraq is supposed to be reduced
to 50,000 by the end of August from around 115,000 now. However, the date for
the end of the U.S. combat operations in Iraq is not included in a bilateral
security pact signed last year, but was set by Obama as part of a pledge to
U.S. voters to end the war on Iraq.
In his accepting Nobel Peace Prize speech earlier this
month, Obama proclaimed a justification for war that could label him more a
modern Niccol� Machiavelli than
�the candidate of change,� which does not preclude the extension of his
country�s military presence in Iraq as a hidden agenda. �The instruments of war
do have a role to play in preserving the peace,� Obama declared. The United
States reserves the right to �act unilaterally if necessary� and to launch wars
whose purpose �extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against
an aggressor,� he said.
Could this be the hidden agenda of the United States in Iraq,
i.e., to create pretexts for a permanent military presence in Iraq? Within this
context it has been noteworthy that the government of al-Maliki and its
security officials, when they were questioned by the parliament in closed and
public sessions last week, were divided over whom to blame for the bombings:
Syria and other �Arab� countries or infiltrators of their security agencies by
resistance elements whom they dub as �terrorists,� but they never hinted to the
U.S. occupying power as a possible culprit, which maintains the capability to
really infiltrate the security shield around the �Green Zone� and could be the
major beneficiary of portraying the government as still incapable of
maintaining law and order; this possibility was given substance, for example,
by the report of The New York Times on December 11 that Blackwater gunmen,
ostensibly contracted as security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, �participated
in some of the CIA�s most sensitive activities -- clandestine raids with agency
officers,� and by CIA Director Leon Panetta�s briefing before congressional
intelligence committees last June about a covert �assassination program�
involving Blackwater. Nor did they hint to Iran, the major beneficiary of the
U.S. occupation, or to voting by bombs by the political components of the U.S.�engineered
�political process� as they used to do since they were brought into the country
by the invading armies.
The reason underlying the U.S. failure in Iraq should be
sought in the fact that the United States has failed to establish a political
system of its own image in Iraq and has instead created its antithesis, which
deprived both its presence in the country as well as the political regime it
has so far failed to install there of a legitimacy that would credibly stand on
its own as an alternative to the legitimate national regime the U.S. invasion
devastated in 2003, notwithstanding the fact it was labeled a dictatorship by Western
standards of liberal parliamentary democracy.
For the same reason, the U.S.-engineered Iraqi constitution
of 2005 and the election law which regulated the Iraqi elections the next year,
as well as the latest amended election law, which will regulate the upcoming
elections early next year, have so far failed to vindicate the missing
Although the U.S. managed to go to its war in Iraq on
seemingly �legally sufficient grounds both nationally and internationally, the
problem was legitimacy�: the U.S. invasion struck at the heart of the �just-war
theory,� which is codified in international law, retired General Wesley K.
Clark, a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations,
rightly noted on July 2, 2007, indicating that the U.S. biggest mistake was the
failure to appreciate the importance of law and the concept of legitimacy in
the conduct of American affairs abroad, and citing �recent polls,� he said the
U.S. is seen by some as �the greatest threat to peace and, in some instances, [former]
President [George W.] Bush more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden!�
Indeed, given the �continuity� of Bush�s policies in Iraq,
Bush�s successor is no less responsible for the current status quo in the
country if he doesn�t reverse course, which incumbent President Obama did not
so far. The invasion was illegitimate, the ensuing occupation is still
illegitimate, the proxy regime the U.S. occupying power is still trying to
install in Baghdad is illegitimate, and no artificially and hastily drafted and
instituted constitution and election law could legitimize an illegitimate
status quo in Iraq.
Illegitimacy of the status quo in Iraq is further questioned
by the bitter and tragic inhumane fruits of the status quo. What elections as
indicator of democracy could any objective observer perceive in a country where
the U.S. military adventure has left around 5 million children orphans, one
million child laborers, street vendors or beggars, and 3 million women widows? There
are at least 3 million Iraqi refugees abroad; the U.N. has estimated that there
were about 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring Jordan and Syria, and some
2.6 million people displaced within Iraq, in addition to millions of unemployed
Iraqis -- all constituting more than half of the 27 million population. The
state infrastructure is still not rehabilitated, the central government could
not secure its own safety, let alone the safety of the population Baghdad, let
alone the rest of the country, without the presence of about 115,000 mainly
U.S. troops and around 100,000 foreign mercenaries, dubbed as security
contractors, and where the basic services like water and power are either
totally broken down or partially operational, and basics like fuel are in short
supply in a country floating on the largest oil reserves in the world, second
only to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. support of undemocratic Arab regimes all throughout
the twentieth century, allegedly for giving priority to alliances against
communism over democratization, is held responsible for the survival of
oppressive governments, the emergence of military dictatorships and delaying
the normal pace of development in the Arab world.
However, following the collapse of the communist Soviet
Union, the ensuing disintegration of the Warsaw Pact lin the last century, and
the emergence of the United States as the leader of a unipolar world system and
the sole inheritor of the WWII victory, have all contributed to a U.S.
turnabout toward improving the image of the American world leader, and within
this context unfortunately the U.S. launched a war on Iraq �on the wings of a
lie� (Thomas L. Friedman on November 18, 2005) that was portrayed -- after all
other pretexts for the war were proved pure lies, including WMD and links to
al-Qaeda -- by US official propaganda as a war for democracy, not only in Iraq,
but also from the Iraqi launching pad all throughout the region.
Creating the antithesis of U.S. non�sectarian democracy in
Iraq might serve the immediate goals of the war on the country, but it absolutely
negates the U.S. self�proclaimed goal of creating a democracy there. First
among the immediate goals is precluding a power vacuum if Iraq has no elected
parliament and no new government in place by March 2010, because the ensuing
renewal of sectarian civil war could restrict releasing more U.S. combat troops
for Afghanistan. However, instituting a sectarian government that takes its
legitimacy from a sectarian parliament elected on the basis of a sectarian
constitution would only be the ideal political recipe for the renewal of the
Nobody cares now to hold the U.S. administration responsible
for ignoring the bipartisan consensus on the �benchmarks� that were set to
avoid the creation of a sectarian regime in Baghdad, and consequently to quell
the sectarian war that erupted in the footsteps of the invading armies, and is still
fuelled by the ruling �friends� of the United States. Washington�s calls for a
�timetable� to achieve the benchmarks as a precondition for U.S. military and
financial support fell on deaf ears in Baghdad. Patrick Lang, former head of
the Middle East section of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the trouble is
that Iraqis do not believe there will be serious consequences if they fail to
achieve these benchmarks. �Realistically they can figure out that the chances
we would pull the plug and leave is just about zero.� (Council on Foreign
Relations, March 11, 2008) Amendment of the sectarian constitution of 2005 was
among 18 benchmarks set by the Iraq
Study Group, but this benchmark has yet to be met.
Ironically, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton,
who is in charge of foreign policy, has yet to step in with more than a nominal
role in Iraq. Following her latest counterproductive input in Pakistan and the Palestinian�Israeli
peace process, she seems in a frenzy to clinch the title of her post in an
administration that has unequivocally shifted the management of foreign policy
from Foggy Bottom to the White House, to jostle herself the place she is
entitled to among a veteran team of heavyweight old hands whom President Obama
assigned the most critical foreign affairs problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
the Middle East and Iraq to Richard Holbrooke who ended the Balkan war; George
Mitchell who brought peace to Northern Ireland and Vice President Joe Biden
respectively. Secretary Clinton has so fa hardlyr figured in or about Iraq.
Yet, and despite her negative voting record on Iraq, she still can make a
difference by at least weighing in for a speedy withdrawal by U.S. troops, to
leave Iraq to Iraqis so they could find a way out of the tragic quagmire her
country plunged Iraq in.
Total and complete withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq
is the prerequisite for a free country where election laws could then be
drafted on national basis, not a sectarian one, to be credibly part of a
democratic evolution. Mere �redeployment� of the U.S. military there will not
do the trick and will not change the status quo.
Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based
in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli occupied territories.