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Iraqis Against All Odds

Marwan Bishara

The Iraq elections underline the tenacity of its people and their determination to take back their country.

Iraqis have succeeded in pulling away from the brink despite, not because, of US policies over the last seven years.

Crediting George Bush's policies for hard earned Iraqi accomplishments adds insult to injury.

It was not only the timing of declaring "Mission Accomplished" from a battle ship that was proved unfortunate, but the whole notion of 'US victory' in Iraq is utterly nonsensical considering the horrific human, societal and other costs.

Accomplished - or not bloody accomplished - the US mission has turned Iraq into a complete mess.

What transpired after the invasion in terms of US failures and power abuse could have completely dismantled the society, nation and country. Alas, it still could!

The widespread destruction after 2003, civil war after 2005 and the division of the country on sectarian lines after that have, for all practical purposes, demolished the Iraqi state and society.

But Iraqis proved stronger and more stubborn than the disasters brought on them by US occupation and the subsequent Iranian and al-Qaeda involvement.

If there is a mission to be rewarded, it is how common sense patriotism is helping Iraqis transcend the violent occupation and abuse by some of their own countrymen.

Indeed, the hard work has only begun. Iraqis will need to heal their wounds, reconcile their differences and put an end to the flames of sectarianism.

They might have held elections, but democracy is a long way off.

Rejecting sectarianism and occupation

Predictably, leaders closest to the occupation and outside forces have proven to be the bloodiest and most corrupt.

Those at the service of US objectives and followers of Iran or al-Qaeda have demonstrated a lack of patriotism, indifference to suffering and willingness to shed the blood of their fellow citizens for the sake of foreign or fundamentalist agendas.

To their credit, the majority of Iraqis have rejected violent sectarianism and condemned corruption with the same vigour with which they rejected the occupation. 

It was the US occupation that introduced - or at least deepened and institutionalised - political sectarianism in the country.

When the armed resistance hardened and expanded in 2004, the US turned a blind eye to sectarian violence which killed tens of thousands.

In fact, according to certain reports, the Bush administration helped introduce the Salvador Option [a grim reminder of US involvement in El Salvador, where quasi-official death squads helped end an insurgency] to the Iraqi interior ministry.

Pitting Shia against Sunni factions against each other became de facto US strategy, aiming to exhaust both sides and to steer them away from confronting the occupation.

With countless deaths, terrible displacements and awful suffering, Iraqis have to a large degree discredited and tamed sectarian extremists and rewarded those who condemned the exploitation of religious tensions to gain popularity and allegiances.

Those with a fundamentalist or sectarian worldview saw their electoral power diminish substantially during the last regional elections.

As in the ballot box, Iraqis have also rejected sectarianism on the streets and in the countryside.

And just as the occupation planted the seeds of political sectarianism, it also brought al-Qaeda to Iraq.

But Iraqi tribes eventually rejected al-Qaeda's fundamentalist agenda for Iraq and turned against its loyalists all over the country.

It was the fight Iraqis put up against al-Qaeda in the predominantly Sunni regions, not in Baghdad where the military surge took place, that brought an end to the group's destructive role.

Not a Karzai, nor a Saddam


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Iraq has pulled away from the brink at times through unfortunate intimidations or brute force.

The tenacity, determination and ambition of the likes of Nouri al-Maliki has played a central role in pulling Iraqi society from the abyss it found itself in, to something more manageable. Although he lacks American style charisma, he has proved to be an astute politician.

Since becoming prime minister, al-Maliki has claimed to represent Iraqis, not foreign agendas, first and foremost. He has also kept a certain distance from the domineering US presence.

Some credit his uncompromising stand on reducing sectarianism in the police and military to the diminished sectarian violence on the streets.

Others point out his intimidation and misuse of government forces and accuse him of outright "thuggery" just as others question his attempts to keep the opposition, especially Sunni figures, off the ballot lists.

Those alienated by his tough handedness, spoke of a new Saddam Hussein trying to hold onto power at any cost.

Al-Maliki's uncompromising agreement with the Bush administration has secured, at least officially, full US withdrawal from Iraq within a relatively short time, giving the Iraqis a new political horizon that, to my mind, motivated many reluctant Iraqis to participate in the elections and re-enter the political life of their country.

For many, this dealt a major blow to US interventionism.

Al-Maliki was just as tough with those who supported his bid to become prime minister, like Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who questioned the central authority of the government, by unflinchingly confronting his militia at the risk of sparking a wider and bloodier conflict.

The Iraqi leader has also put Iraq's Arab neighbours on notice, especially those who interfered in Iraq's internal affairs, or those shooting from the sidelines, by asking them to live up to their neighbourly responsibilities.

Al-Maliki has come under fire for his authoritarianism from certain US circles, and like Karzai has been accused of putting his personal interests and those of those closest to him ahead of that of Iraq.

However, unlike the Afghan leader whose authority is weak and extends to no more than the capital's boundaries, al-Maliki's State of the Law party, with all its terrible shortcomings and sectarian colouring, has brought a certain order, however fragile, to Iraq.


While many celebrate the elections as the dawn of a new era, people cannot live by elections alone. They need jobs, food, running water. And millions need to go home.

Iraq continues to suffer from occupation, sectarianism, chaos, insecurity, lack of basic needs and utilities and uncertainty.

The elections will not give one single party the majority of seats, but nor will a coalition government mean a working democracy.

After all, democracy cannot be reduced to majority rule, especially if such a majority is undemocratic. Rather, democracy is the governing of democratic values by those accepting its principles of government.

Democracy is also the rule of law and the protection of the rights of minorities against the whims of the majorities.

In fact, the elections could further confuse an already complicated Iraqi politics, especially if accusations of irregularities lead to challenging the results of the elections and pave the way to instability ahead of scheduled US withdrawals.

Alas, in these neo-colonial times, Iraq is far from immune from more of the same tensions and bloodshed it witnessed in the recent past.

After all, many of those who led and financed expensive electoral campaigns in the shadow of the occupation cannot be trusted with the future of the country.

But no matter what happens, Iraqis need to resolve their disputes non-violently, and in the meantime show the occupation the door and kick out mercenaries.

Time for the 'dogs of war' to dissipate with their tails between their legs.

It is paradoxical that 'free elections' in the Arab world takes place mostly under occupation. But that says more about the sad state of Arab affairs and the authoritarianism of Arab regimes than it does about presumed enlightened occupation, itself an oxymoron.

The Palestinians, like the Iraqis, have also held elections after four decades of oppression. To give Israel or American occupation credit for peoples' patriotism and yearning for freedom is as cynical as it is silly.

After long decades of wars, sanctions and destruction, Iraqis are clumsily, but true to character, stubbornly trying to rise from the ashes. Give credit where credit is due.

Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst. He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.

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