Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Bad News from Iraq

The New York Times is carrying two pieces on the forthcoming elections in Iraq.
There are mysterious knocks on his door at night. His friends ask him not to visit. He declines to allow even his first name to be published. This shadowy figure, a young Sunni Muslim from Baghdad, is neither spy nor criminal.
The young man being described is an election worker. Faced with death threats, violent attacks, often murder, Iraqi election workers are "functioning like a political underground", according to an official of the Electoral Council. Many of them believe in democracy, but are resigning now that their families have become targets.

Prime Minister Allawi acknowledges publically that there are provinces which are unsafe for voting, but all the authorities can do is hope that the situation improves by the end of the month. President Bush says that 14 out of 18 provinces are safe, but does not admit that the other 4 (Baghdad, Nineveh, Anbar and Salahadin) contain over half the population of Iraq. Lt. Gen. Metz., the commander of American ground troops, says that he is "not in good shape to hold elections today." Given the length of the American occupation, what reason is there to believe that coalition forces will achieve in two weeks what they have not been able to do in over a year?

The Times editorial is advocating a postponement of elections, and this may not be a bad idea. It may feel like giving in to the terrorists, but reasonably fair elections six months from now are infinitely preferable to a bungled job in seventeen days. The authorities are not even sure whether all the polling stations in the 'Sunni heartland' will be open! Considering that poll booth capturing by armed attackers occurs in India (with a history of over fifty years of democracy, an army deployed during elections, and no popular support for terrorists/naxalites), it's only reasonable to expect the same sort of thing on a much larger scale in Iraq. If the elections are held at the end of this month, it is probable that the Sunnis will feel disenfranchised en masse. The consequences of that are frightening; a civil war becomes a very real possibility. American forces may begin leaving Iraq some time after the elections; if they cut-and-run, Iraq could descend into chaos.

I hate to be a prophet of doom, but I'm profoundly depressed at what's happening in Iraq. I would love to be proved wrong, but I doubt I will be. I can only hope that something remarkable happens in the next fortnight, though I fear that nothing short of divine intervention will make a difference.

In other news, I found this Reuters article about a propaganda video made by Iraqi insurgents, via American Leftist. The makers of the video portray themselves (and they may be justified) as nationalist freedom fighters, not foreign terrorists. The true Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, they allege, were the sanctions and the Oil-for-Food program. Unlike many other videos that have been released, this does not show soldiers being brutally murdered. Instead, a single voice explains calmly (and in English) why 'the resistance' is fighting, their beliefs and their goals. As a result, it is far more effective propaganda than anything I've seen from Iraq. Parts of their message:
We have not crossed the oceans and seas to occupy Britain or the U.S. nor are we responsible for 9/11... We thank all those, including those in Britain and the US, who took to the streets in protest against this war... We also thank France, Germany and other states for their positions, which we need to say are considered wise and valid until now... We ask you to form a world-wide front against war... Know that by helping the Iraqi people, you are helping yourselves, for tomorrow may bring the same destruction to you... To the American soldiers, we say, "Go back to your homes, families and your loved ones. This is not your war, nor are you fighting for a true cause in Iraq."

Of course, parts of it are needlessly jingoistic and Anti-American, but it's fairly well done, overall; at the very least, it makes 'the enemy' seem more human. I do not condone the action of the Iraqi guerrillas, but I do hope more people realise that most of the fighters in Iraq today are not hardened terrorists with an unreasoning hatred for all things American; they were once people just like you and me.

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