The Iraqi government is printing 26 million ballots for the March 7 elections, nearly 35% more than are needed for all eligible voters. Several contesting parties are crying foul play, claiming that the extra 7 million ballots will be used for fraudulent purposes.
That argument is being trumpeted by the Iraqi National List of ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi. The Sadrist bloc accuses Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of arresting its followers in the week ahead of the elections to prevent them from voting for anti-Maliki candidates. Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr claim that in the past few days the government has arrested about 40 Sadrists in Basra and 20 in al-Kout.
According to the Iraqi National Alliance, the prime minister is abusing his powers and distributing government land and plantations freely to tribal leaders to secure their votes. This comes only days after a candidate announced, through the Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya, that Maliki is distributing expensive guns to those who visited him in the days preceding the elections, with a gold emblem that reads, "Gift of the Prime Minister."
Nouri's so very good at showing up, right before an election, armed with gifts and promises. Remember his claim in 2008 that public housing was going up? He'd claimed it in 2007 as well. Where is it? John Leland (New York Times) reports:
Beneath the grand issues hanging over Iraq, like the coming national elections or the continuing violence, the day-to-day lives of most Iraqis turn on more quotidian concerns: the lack of electricity; the pervasive corruption; and a housing shortage that forces two, three, even four families to live under the same roof.
Half of Iraq, it is said, lives with the other half. In some parts of the country, the average home has four people per bedroom, according to the United Nations.
And then there is the bathroom crisis.
William Kern (The Moderate Voice) feels the elections are a choice between one of two regional alliances. As if to back up Kern's hypothesis, a member of Nouri's State of Law party, Thaer al-Feili, went on Iran's Press TV to insist that "Saudi Arabia is ruining his country. [. . .] He said that Saudi officials are dependent on the Baath party in the parliamentary elections because only the Baathists are ready to sell their country to foreigners." Meanwhile AFP interviews Iraq's National Security Adviser, Safa Hussein, who shares some post-election day concerns: "If it takes a long time, we will have some difficulties." If what takes a long time? Creating a new ruling government. Elections are held March 5th through 7th. Then the counting beings. Expect a minimum of one week before results are announced (and those probably won't be certified results). The elections are not to elect a prime minister, they are to elect members of Parliament. MPs -- members of Parliament -- will then elect a prime minister. This can be done quickly if one political party sweeps the elections or it can take awhile if one political party that sweeps has several people who want to be prime minister or if the results spread the votes out amongst many parties. If it's the latter, the MPs of various parties begin working on coalition sharing argreements. This is what concerns Safa Hussein who states, "I would begin to be concerned if it was not established by July." It? We're not even to it yet in the description. After a prime minister is agreed upon, the prime minister then needs to appoint a cabinet. That becomes the central government out of Baghdad. Nouri missed both his own announced deadline in 2006 for appointing a cabinet as well as the Constitutionally mandated deadline. And those wondering about July should remember that the Parliamentary elections were held in December 2005 and Nouri was announced prime minister in April 2006.
Jack Kimball, Shamal Aqrawi, Michael Christie and Matthew Jones (Reuters) report that, as in 2005, the Kurds are "expected to emerge as powerful kingmakers" since no party is expected to win a majority of the votes -- therefore no party would be able to select the prime minister by themselves without first forming some coalition sharing agreements. Meanwhile Reuters notes 1 "member of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, a Kurdish election list," was shot dead outside his Tuz Khurmato home yesterday and that 4 Iraqi soldiers were wounded in a Mosul grenade attack yesterday.
At Workers World, John Catalinotto offers "U.S. occupation behind Iraq's turmoil:"
As the March 7 national election approaches in Iraq, the number of U.S. troops occupying the country has slipped below 100,000 for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion seven years ago. The Pentagon plans to change the name of its Iraq effort on Sept. 1, from "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to "Operation New Dawn" when 50,000 troops remain.
The play with words and numbers hasn’t changed the basic reality in Iraq. There are still 98,000 U.S. troops there. They still have the leverage on power. A sovereign election can’t be held in an occupied country.
If and when the last U.S. troops are ushered out, the best name for that effort would be "Operation End the Nightmare." Seven years of invasion and occupation have brought neither freedom nor the promise of a fresh start, but have brought Iraq to the brink of destruction as a country.
A report from the Brussells Tribunal, resulting from an attempt last October to raise a legal case against U.S./U.K. aggression and occupation, gives a bleak picture of where life is at today in Iraq:
"From the start of the implementation of a U.S.-instigated and dominantly administered sanctions regime [August 1990] up to the present day, an approximate total of 2.7 million Iraqis have died as a direct result of sanctions followed by the U.S.-U.K. led war of aggression on, and occupation of, Iraq beginning in 2003. Among those killed during the sanctions period were 560,000 children.
"From 2003 onwards, having weakened Iraq's civil and military infrastructure to the degree that its people were rendered near totally defenseless, Iraq was subject to a level of aggression of near unprecedented scale and nature in international history."
This took place along with "funding of sectarian groups and militias that would play a key role in fragmenting the country under occupation, ... the collapse of all public services and state protection for the Iraqi people, the further destruction of the health and education systems of Iraq, and the creation of waves of internal and external displacement totaling nearly 5 million Iraqis;" overall there are "5 million orphans" and "3 million widows." (brusselstribunal.org)
Those are the numbers that should be kept in mind when the Pentagon and war criminals like former Vice President Dick Cheney and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair boast of the achievements of the Iraq occupation. What the U.S. and Britain have achieved is fomenting an internecine battle among different groupings inside Iraq. This has prevented the Iraqis from waging a united struggle to liberate their country from the occupation.
The imperialists have left Iraq in shambles. And they have not yet left Iraq.
An electoral sham
The March 7 election -- should it take place as scheduled -- will be as much a farce as the one held in Afghanistan last summer. A complete client state, which was only able to take power with the force of the occupation behind it, is organizing the elections. It is organizing them in order to consolidate power for the groupings that support Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
These are parties that opposed the Ba’athist government led by Saddam Hussein. Al-Maliki signed the papers hurrying the execution of the Iraqi leader on Dec. 30, 2006. At that time Saddam Hussein was a symbol of struggle for a significant section of the Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
During the electoral campaign, al-Maliki’s government outlawed the candidacy of 454 people who were running for national office, claiming that these individuals were too close to the Ba’ath Party. Some 171 of these candidates appealed the decision disqualifying them. In February a panel of judges appointed for the purpose rejected the appeals of all but 26 candidates.
Following this decision barring the most secular of the candidates, the Iraqi National Movement coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced it would temporarily suspend its campaign and demanded that the bans be reversed. On Feb 21, one of the parties in this coalition, the mostly Sunni National Dialog Front, announced that it would boycott the election.
There is still a chance the election will fall apart. Even if the vote takes place, as in Afghanistan, it will be a fraud having nothing to do with democracy. U.S. troops -- even if they are not engaged in daily battles in Iraq -- still remain the final arbiters of Iraqi politics.
Washington may prefer a stable puppet regime in Iraq so it can move most of its troops to Afghanistan. But the U.S. forces will continue to try to play off one sector of Iraqi society against another -- whatever the consequences for the Iraqis -- if the U.S. dominates the region.
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Meanwhile, last week, we noted BBC News reporting that the IMF will be 'loaning' $3.6 billion and "Analysts say the conditions attached to previous IMF loans have caused resentment among Iraqis as they have struggled to compete with neighbouring countries in trade." Now Reuters reports that Iraq will be receiving two $250 million loans from the World Bank -- which means Robert Zoellick's colonizing efforts continue. In other financial news, one country the US waged illegal war against teams up with another, Voice of Vietnam reports that Vietnam will sell "90,000 tonnes of five-percent broken rice to Iraq". Meanwhile on Weekend Edition Sunday (NPR -- link has audio and text), Liane Hansen spoke with two Iraqi scientists (both Iraqi women's first names are withheld by NPR at the women's request)
HANSEN: You, Dr. Mustafa, are a communications engineer. What do you think that you will be able to take from your experience at Berkeley back to Iraq that will help you rebuild that country?
Dr. MUSTAFA: First, because I'm lecturer in one of the Iraqi university, I will try to learn as much as I can. I'm observing some classes in Berkeley University with, like - how can I say - it wasn't even a dream for me to audit such classes from such professors. So, I'm learning. And the system here, I like it very much. There's a very great relation between the university and industry of fields, like, you will build a bridge between theory and application.
HANSEN: So, reconstructing, I mean, making those bridges between the universities and the businesses to help do this.
Dr. MUSTAFA: Yes.
HANSEN: Are the Iraqi universities operating on the level where enough future scientists and engineers are going to graduate - that they can graduate enough people? Dr. Mustafa?
Dr. MUSTAFA: Yes, it's different from university to university. We are doing our best, but, you know, because of the long year of the wars, everything, we can say, is destroyed and we need to rebuild, to reconstruct. You know, that we are separated from the outside world for more than 30 years. So, we have these structures, as I told you. But the practical part of our university is very weak now. So, we need to rebuild these laboratories and have new equipment using the new technology in the world. So, we have the science, we have the willing from my colleagues, from my students to learn, but we still have a shortage of the equipment and the application part in our study.
HANSEN: Well, both of you are here, as I mentioned, through the Iraqi Women's Fellowship Foundation, and its aim is to train Iraqi women scientists so you can take leadership roles in the country's reconstruction and its future. Do you think there is a special role for women in the rebuilding of the country? Dr. Mustafa?
Dr. MUSTAFA: Special role, I think, yes. The woman is most important part of any community. I think for the Iraqi woman we had always that special position. And we have - there's great engineers, lawyers, doctors. And the position of the woman in our family is very respectable because it's the symbol of the honor of the family, it's the pride of the family. During the wars that we had, most of our men were fighting and the woman took their job and ran the whole country and have the great responsibility in their homes and in their work. As a woman and as an Iraqi, I'm very proud to speak about the Iraqi woman.
HANSEN: Scientists, however, I mean, there are hundreds of Iraqi intellectuals and academics that have been killed since the U.S. led invasion and many in sectarian violence. And there's also been a brain drain - what we call a brain drain - in Iraq, many fled the country. How is morale among the academics and the scientists in Iraq now? Do they fear for their lives?
Dr. ALKAZRAGY: Yes, like everyone. Yes. You have, like, trying always to survive, to live.
March 20th, marches in DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Students for a Democratic Society are an organization that will be participating and they note:
Amped Status has been working on an ambitious series of reports and part-six is now up, "Part VI: How to Fight Back and Win: Common Ground Issues That Must Be Won - The Economic Elite Vs. The People of the USA".
Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Barack Renews The Patriot Act" went up last night and Kat's "Kat's Korner: The ultimate torch singer Sade" went up Saturday and her "Kat's Korner: Joanna Newsom's triumph" went up Sunday.
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