Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Iraqi Elections

Five days and an age ago, a post describing the last ditch strategy of the Iraqi insurgents quoted Marc Ruel Gerecht as predicting they would attempt to stir up a civil war.

Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship. ... What clerical Iran ideally wants to see next door is strife that can produce an Iraqi Hezbollah. ... The birth of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran's ruling mullahs view as their greatest--only--foreign success, required a civil war and an Israeli invasion. In Iraq, Iran's ruling clerics have an American invasion. What they lack is civil war. ...

He was only repeating common knowledge. In early December, the Sunni President of the Interim Government, Ghazi al-Yawar, stated that the "Armies of Darkness" would make an all-out attempt to derail the democratic processes in Iraq. "Speaking after a particularly bloody few days in which more than 70 people have been killed, Yawar said: "Right now, we're faced with the armies of darkness, who have no objective but to undermine the political process and incite civil war in Iraq."

Those "Armies of Darkness" killed more than 62 people in separate attacks on Shi'ite targets and in targeted assassinations of Iraqi election workers over the last few days. According to MSNBC:

Car bombs rocked Iraq’s two holiest Shiite cities Sunday, killing at least 62 people and wounding more than 120, while in downtown Baghdad dozens of gunmen carried out a brazen ambush on a car, pulling out three election officials and executing them on the pavement in the middle of morning traffic.

The attacks by Sunni insurgents and their Syrian backers upon Shi'ites is easy to understand. The former Ba'athist ruling class of Iraq is fighting to prevent the Shi'ite majority from dominating the new government. But why should Teheran, as Gerecht suggests, have a hand in attacking their co-religionists? The answer he provides is that the Iranian Mullahs have always perceived the Iraqi Shi'ites as rivals for power and influence within the Shi'ite world. Moreover, the Iraqi Shi'a have a record of independent action and in fact constituted the majority of Iraqi troops fighting against Iran during the late 1980s war between the two countries.

 The strongest trump playing in favor of America and against Iran is Iraqi nationalism. ... Iraq's Shiites are the progenitors of modern Iraqi nationalism. They, much more than their Sunni Arab compatriots, who were the driving force behind pan-Arabism in Mesopotamia, have shaped an Iraqi Arab identity which is distinct from the Sunni Arabs to the west and Shiite Iranians to the east. ... Which brings us to the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. Clerical Iran's primary objective is to ensure that Iraq remains destabilized, incapable of coalescing around a democratically elected government. Such a government supported by Iraq's Shiite establishment is a dagger aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship.

But while the Iraqi Mullahs fear a new Iraqi state as an intra-Shi'ite threat, other Arab states dread it in intra-sectarian terms. It threatens to upset the power balance between Sunni and Shi'ite within the region. As John Burns of the New York Times put it:

Many American and Iraqi officials say the talk of Iranian influence here reflects what they call a more plausible fear: that Shiite dominance in Iraq, coupled with Shiite rule in Iran, would reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East. The development would be particularly threatening to Sunni-ruled states that border Iraq and run down the Persian Gulf, the officials say, carrying as it would the threat of increasing unrest among long-suppressed Shiite populations.

For entirely different reasons the Syrian and Iranian regimes are determined to strangle the new Iraqi state in the cradle. And for precisely that reason, the Iraqi politicians who are now emerging from years of domination by the Ba'ath and the paid agents of Teheran are determined not to miss their chance at independence. Ha'aretz reports that Shi'ite leaders have called for calm amid the provocations that have seen three score of their co-religionists killed near their holiest places.

Shi'ite leaders accuse Sunni Muslim militants of carrying out the attacks. The Shi'ites suspect militants known as Salafists or Wahabis, and former ruling Baath Party members, of seeking to draw Shi'ites into a violence cycle that would spark a civil war and prevent the coming elections from taking place. Wahabis are blamed by Shi'ites for killing scores of clerics and ordinary Shi'ites in Dora, a mixed area in Baghdad, and Latifiya, just south of the capital, in recent months. According to Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum, one of Iraq's most respected Shi'ite clerics "[Wahabi militants] are trying to ignite a sectarian civil war and prevent elections from going ahead on time. They have failed before and they will fail again."

If the issues in Iraq have been muddled beforetime by the polemic over 'weapons of mass destruction' or Saddam's connection to the September 11 attacks, the Syrian and Iranian attempts to prevent the scheduled elections have at last put things in their proper perspective. The central issue in Iraq is whether an Arab people can win their freedom in despite of the worst efforts of tyrannical and terrorist regimes to prevent it. The blasts which ripped through the Shi'ite holy places and the bullets which smashed the skulls of Iraqi election works have also blown aside the fog of propaganda with which the ancien regime sought to hide its campaign of suppression. It is not about 'blood for oil' or 'Jesusland': no; it is about the Iraqi people seeking to choose their future, backed by America on the one hand and the traditional tyrannies of the Middle East aided by their European Allies and the United Nations bureaucracy seeking to prevent it on the other. That is not to say that traditional geopolitics or human greed have nothing to do with the overall mixture; nor to argue that commercial cupidity and ambition are absent from Iraq. But it is essential to recognize the fundamental issues involved and where the cause of right lies, this day, this hour; until the elections on January 30.