Iraq’s referendum: Successful?

With the international community still focused on delivering aid to the earthquake survivors in Pakistan and Kashmir, and North American storm watchers bracing for the impact of Hurricane Wilma, the recent developments in Iraq have not garnered many headlines.

Nevertheless, there have been two newsworthy events that have taken place in that war-ravaged country in the past 10 days.

On Saturday 15 October, Iraqis went to the polls to cast their vote in a referendum on a new constitution. As expected, the various ethnic and religious factions voted as a block as dictated to them by either their war lord masters, tribal leaders or religious clerics.

The Kurds in the north, and the Shia Arabs in the south voted to support the new constitution, while the Sunni Arabs in central Iraq voted against the proposed legislation.

Even before the votes had been tabulated, US State Department officials were spinning this referendum as a successful exercise in democracy.


In order to ensure a large voter turnout, the American authorities had beefed up security at polling stations, imposed a nationwide curfew, and suspended all internal travel permits.

“Just because the elections were set up by the US, does not make them undemocratic.”  

, US

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The Sunni insurgents had threatened to disrupt the entire process, and they did manage to knock out the Baghdad power plant on the eve of the vote. Gun battles throughout the country claimed the lives of six policemen and one American soldier.

As the results trickled in, there were immediate claims of ballot box stuffing as the tally of votes cast in some key provinces heavily outnumbered the list of registered voters. The result itself – a divided vote – was the antithesis of the hoped-for unifying platform.

In fact, the referendum has only entrenched and deepened the existing divisions by further marginalising the entire Sunni minority from the governing process.

Nevertheless, the US administration tells us this was a success because they needed it to be a success. The referendum on the constitution is only the first stepping stone to the national elections planned for this December.

A democratically elected Iraqi parliament will be held aloft as proof of President George Bush’s success in rebuilding Iraq.

It will also give the green light for America to begin a significant troop withdrawal – regardless of the actual security situation on the ground.

The insurgency and budding civil war will soon be viewed as Iraq’s internal problem, and the violent fate unleashed upon the long-suffering Iraqi people will no longer be America’s responsibility. (“Hey, we gave them a constitution and freedom!”) But I digress.

Whether by design or just fate, it was on the same date – October 15 – exactly three years earlier that I was in Baghdad to observe another example of “honest democracy” in Iraq.

It was on the occasion of Saddam Hussein’s final presidential referendum. To encourage a large voter turnout, Saddam’s secret service monitored the polling stations, and to ensure his victory, his was the only name listed on the ballot. Not surprisingly, Saddam won a landslide victory – securing 100%of the votes from a 100% voter turnout.

Naturally enough, the western media made a mockery of Saddam’s theatrics, yet when this latest – equally absurd referendum was staged, many US pundits simply echoed the State Department’s official line and declared it to be a success.

Saddam himself, of course, was the other big news out of Iraq last week when he appeared for the first time in court to stand trial for crimes committed during his reign of terror.

Those US commentators covering the trial pointed out how frail the former Iraqi president looked, and they recited a litany of evil deeds associated with Saddam and his fellow accused Baath party henchmen. What was interesting to see was the amusement these pundits displayed when discussing Saddam’s courtroom defiance.

The fact that an accused mass murderer would have the audacity to question the legitimacy of this US established court seemed somewhat comical to these analysts.

However, while Saddam Hussein may be guilty of many things, he is not wrong to label the US invasion of his country as illegal.

Remember, it was without UN sanction that President Bush took unilateral action against Iraq in March 2003.

The pretext used to invade Iraq was that it was in self defence to secure weapons of mass destruction that we now know never existed.

Saddam will undoubtedly be found guilty and punished for his crimes, but who will stand accountable for the 100,000 (plus) Iraqi civilian casualties that resulted from this unjustifiable war?

Scott Taylor, a former Canadian soldier, is the editor of Esprit de Corps military magazine and a veteran war correspondent. 

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera

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