by Naomi Klein | The Guardian | 13/11/2004
Iraqi elections were postponed to save Bush. That led to today's carnage
The hip-hop mogul P Diddy announced at the weekend that his "Vote or Die" campaign will live on. The voter registration drive during the US presidential elections was, he said, merely "phase one, step one for us to get people engaged".
Fantastic. I have a suggestion for phase two: P Diddy, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the self-described "coalition of the willing" should take their chartered jet and fly to Falluja, where their efforts are desperately needed. But first they are going to need to flip the slogan from "Vote or Die!" to "Die, then Vote!"
Because that is what is happening there. Escape routes have been sealed off, homes are being demolished, and an emergency health clinic has been razed - all in the name of preparing the city for January elections. In a letter to United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, the US-appointed Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi explained that the all-out attack was required "to safeguard lives, elections and democracy in Iraq."
With all the millions spent on "democracy-building" and "civil society" in Iraq, it has come to this: if you can survive attack by the world's only superpower, you get to cast a ballot. Fallujans are going to vote, goddammit, even if they all have to die first.
And make no mistake: it is Fallujans who are under the gun. "The enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja," marine Lt Col Gareth Brandl told the BBC. Well, at least he admitted that some of the fighters actually live in Falluja, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, who would have us believe that they are all from Syria and Jordan. And since US army vehicles are blaring recordings forbidding all men between the ages of 15 and 50 from leaving the city, it would suggest that there are at least a few Iraqis among what CNN now obediently describes as the "anti-Iraqi forces".
Elections in Iraq were never going to be peaceful, but they did not need to be an all-out war on voters either. Mr Allawi's Rocket the Vote campaign is the direct result of a disastrous decision made one year ago. On November 11 2003, Paul Bremer, then chief US envoy to Iraq, flew to Washington to meet George Bush. The two men were concerned that if they kept their promise to hold elections in Iraq within the coming months, the country would fall into the hands of insufficiently pro-American forces.
That would defeat the purpose of the invasion, and it would threaten President Bush's re-election chances. At that meeting, a revised plan was hatched: elections would be delayed for more than a year, and in the meantime, Iraq's first "sovereign" government would be hand-picked by Washington. The plan would allow Mr Bush to claim progress on the campaign trail, while keeping Iraq safely under US control.
In the US, Mr Bush's claim that "freedom is on the march" served its purpose, but in Iraq, the plan led directly to the carnage we see today.
Mr Bush likes to paint the forces opposed to the US presence in Iraq as enemies of democracy. In fact, much of the uprising can be traced directly to decisions made in Washington to stifle, repress, delay, manipulate and otherwise thwart the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people.
Yes, democracy has genuine opponents in Iraq, but before George Bush and Paul Bremer decided to break their central promise to hand over power to an elected Iraqi government, these forces were isolated and contained. That changed when Mr Bremer returned to Baghdad and tried to convince Iraqis that they weren't yet ready for democracy.
Mr Bremer argued that the country was too insecure to hold elections, and besides, there were no voter rolls. Few were convinced. In January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis peacefully took to the streets of Baghdad, and 30,000 more did so in Basra. Their chant was "Yes, yes elections. No, no selections." At the time, many argued that Iraq was safe enough to have elections and pointed out that the lists from the Saddam-era oil-for-food programme could serve as voter rolls. But Mr Bremer wouldn't budge and the UN - scandalously and fatefully - backed him up.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Hussain al-Shahristani, chairman of the standing committee of the Iraqi National Academy of Science (who was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein for 10 years), accurately predicted what would happen next. "Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later," he wrote. "The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost."
Ten months and thousands of lost Iraqi and American lives later, elections are scheduled to take place with part of the country in the grip of yet another invasion and much of the rest of it under martial law. As for the voter rolls, the Allawi government is planning to use the oil-for-food lists, just as was suggested and dismissed a year ago.
So it turns out that all of the excuses were lies: if elections can be held now, they most certainly could have been held a year ago, when the country was vastly calmer. But that would have denied Washington the chance to install a puppet regime in Iraq, and possibly would have prevented George Bush from winning a second term.
Is it any wonder that Iraqis are sceptical of the version of democracy being delivered to them by US troops, or that elections have come to be seen not as tools of liberation but as weapons of war?
First, Iraq's promised elections were sacrificed in the interest of George Bush's re-election hopes; next, the siege of Falluja itself was crassly shackled to these same interests. The fighter planes didn't even wait an hour after George Bush finished his acceptance speech to begin the air attack on Falluja. The city was bombed at least six times through the next day and night. With voting safely over in the US, Falluja could be destroyed in the name of its own upcoming elections.
In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of the US soldiers in Falluja was to ambush the city's main hospital. Why? Apparently because it was the source of the "rumours" about high civilian casualties the last time US troops laid siege to Falluja, sparking outrage in Iraq and across the Arab world. "It's a centre of propaganda," an unnamed senior American officer told the New York Times. Without doctors to count the dead, the outrage would presumably be muted - except that, of course, the attacks on hospitals have sparked their own outrage, further jeopardising the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.
According to the New York Times, the Falluja general hospital was easy to capture, since the doctors and patients put up no resistance. There was, however, one injury: "An Iraqi soldier who accidentally discharged his Kalashnikov rifle, injuring his lower leg."
I think that means he shot himself in the foot. He's not the only one.
· Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo and Fences and Windows