Violence on Eve of Iraq Vote

Iraqis go to the polls this Sunday, March 7, and it's not looking good.

A rumble of violence is spreading across Iraq, and while it's nothing
like the generalized warfare that plagued the country three years ago,
it's a worrying sign that a wrong turn after the elections could lead
to an explosion -- especially if the vote is rigged, or if the
politically disenfranchised outsiders, such as the many Sunnis,
secularists, and nationalists, feel that the deck was stacked against

The best outcome after March 7 would, in effect, amount to a
restoration of sorts, not of the Saddam Hussein-era hardliners, but of
a coalition of Iraqis who are prepared to resist Iran and its myriad
Iraqi agents, sympathizers, and allies while, at the same time, holding
the United States to its deadline for withdrawing US forces by the end
of 2011. There is at least a chance that the recent polarization of the
electorate, sparked by the purge of candidates by an Iranian-backed
commission headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the former darling of the noecons,
might backfire. While there are signs that the polarization, designed
to terrify Iraqi Shia over the spurious fear of a Saddamist comeback,
might stampede many on-the-fence Shia to vote for sectarian Shiite
candidates, it's also possible that the heavyhanded purge will bring a
huge turnout of Sunni and secular candidates to the polls, simply to
vote against the Shiite coalition and against Prime Minister Maliki.
(Maliki, who's made half-hearted efforts over the past year to cloak
himself in nationalist garb, strongly endorsed the purge. And, like the
Shiite bloc, the INA, Maliki is waving the bloody shirt of Baathism to
rally Shiite voters to his party, too.) A big turnout by Sunnis,
secularists, and nationalists might upend Shiite dominance of Iraq by
creating the basis for an anti-Iran coalition that could join with the
Kurds and some renegade Shiite members of the INA after the election.

Putting together a governing coalition is likely to take four to six
months after March 7, in a Wild West-like setting. (It's during this
shaky period that US forces are supposed to drop from 96,000 to

Three huge bombs racked Diyala province,
a mixed ethnic and sectarian province northeast of Baghdad along the
border with Iran, on Wednesday, killing scores of people, and the
province was placed under curfew. In Ramadi, the center of
Sunni-dominated Anbar province in the west, tensions are high, and the deputy governor is warning that his constituents are restive.
"If they feel their rights have been robbed, it might lead to sectarian
violence," he warns. (The Anbar governor just returned from the United
States, where he was fitted with an artificial limb after a recent bomb
attack.) In crucial Nineweh province, a northern province that includes
Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, Arab-Kurd tension is escalating along
the so-called trigger line that separates the Kurds' expansionist
border from Arab Iraq, and Masoud Barzani, the separatist Kurdish
leader, has threatened to have his pesh merga paramilitary militia
forces arrest the legitimately elected governor simply because he tried
to visit a town in his own province that the Kurds consider part of
"Kurdistan." Meanwhile, there have been a series of assassination
attempts against candidates for parliament, especially aimed at members
of the secular bloc led by former Prime Minister Allawi, banned secular
leader Saleh al-Mutlaq, and the party of the Nineweh governor. I've
spoken to candidates for office who have to travel in heavily armed
convoys, who can't have public rallies, and who fear for their lives at
every moment.

Chalabi, the portly liar and wheeler dealer who led the purge of
anti-Iran candidates, makes no bones about campaigning as a sectarian
Shia. This week, he told the Los Angeles Timesthat
he is proud of his anti-Baathist McCarthyism, and he boasted about his
despicable rabble-rousing: "On the issue of the Baath, I don't think
anyone can match me." The paper described his blatant appeal to
sectarianism in a speech to voters

"'I call for your support, for preventing the return of
the Baathists,' he says, before adding a final, ominous-sounding pledge
to his Shiite audience, one that leaves little doubt as to the tone of
his campaign.

"'We support your sect and we will protect it,' he says, before
being hustled back into his vehicle by his bodyguards for the journey
home through the slum, now shrouded in darkness."

Allawi, the standard bearer for the secular nationalists, and his
allies have been campaigning hard, and not just in Iraq. Both Allawi, a
secular Shia, and Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni who used to
be part of the Sunni religious bloc, have been traveling in neighboring
Arab countries where millions of Iraqi voters have fled in the seven
years since the US invasion. In Jordan and Syria alone, up to two
million displaced Iraqis are eligible to vote, and many of them hail
from the critical electoral cauldron of Baghdad province, which was
ethnically cleansed by Iranian-backed Shiite death squads between 2004
and 2007. The votes of the two million Iraqi refugees, plus another two
million internally displaced persons, might be critical in Sunday's
vote -- if they're counted, and fairly.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Allawi warned that the thuggish Maliki is becoming a mini-Saddam himself, adding these strong words:

"We accept there will be a margin of irregularities in
this situation. We are not going to accept a large portion of
irregularities. That means a failure of democracy in Iraq. We will get
out of the political process. If this happens, it will point Iraq
towards a very violent and stormy future.

"If the political process is against the will of the people and
filled with irregularities, I will stay away and I will call on others
to boycott the process. If I am elected, I will resign from parliament."

Stay tuned.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Nation