Sunday, January 30, 2005

Did We Win?

Juan Cole puts up this post.

Guerrillas launched mortar and suicide bomb attacks at polling stations throughout Iraq on Sunday as thousands of Iraqis headed to the polls. As many as 27 were dead by 1 pm Iraqi time, with several times that wounded.

Explosions rocked West, South and East Baghdad, as well as many cities throughout the Sunni heartland--Baqubah, Mosul, Balad, and in Salahuddin Province (7 attacks by noon). There was also an attack in the Turkmen north at Talafar, and in the Shiite deep south at Basra. In Basra, Coalition troops raided the al-Hamra Mosque. Four were killed and seven wounded in an attack in Sadr City. These kinds of statistics were common in the election-poll attacks.

Turnout seems extremely light in the Sunni Arab areas, where some polling stations did not even open. It was heavier in the Shiite south and in the Kurdish north.

Cole earlier characterized the Iraqi electoral process as a "joke" in a Reuters article.

"These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan. "The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.

The Boston Globe reports that a lot of Iraqi voters have a lively sense of humor.

Baghdad, Iraq (AP) Iraqis danced and clapped with joy Sunday as they voted in their country's first free election in a half-century, defying insurgents who launched eight deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. The attacks killed at least 31 people. After a slow start, men and women in flowing black abayas often holding babies formed long lines, although there were pockets of Iraq where the streets and polling stations were deserted. Iraqis prohibited from using private cars walked streets crowded in a few places nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with voters, hitched rides on military buses and trucks, and some even carried the elderly in their arms.

''This is democracy,'' said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

The BBC reporter's notebook gives area-by-area impressions of the voting.

Area BBC Correspondent Impressions
Basra "People have been literally streaming towards polling stations. I have never witnessed this huge turnout for long time."
Mosul "In places with a Kurdish majority such as the Noor and Masarif districts, there is a huge turnout."
Fallujah "The turnout to all these stations is very low."
Baghdad "We have seen voting here in the capital, and in the streets close to the BBC office the atmosphere was almost euphoric."
Arbil "We're not looking at vast crowds of people but this particular polling station has been allocated 3,000 registered voters and I would say we've probably seen the bulk of them passing through already."
Al Amarah "From Basra to Al Amarah, to the northern most sections of the British zone, thousands of people are lined up on the streets. Even in the smaller provincial towns 400 kilometres from Basra, towns like Ali al-Ghabi and Komait, where there are only a handful of polling stations, the queues are several hundred deep."
Najaf "A lot of women turned out and their numbers dwarf those of the men. I have seen very old people unable to walk, I have seen blind people being led to the polling stations."

Turnout out has been low in Fallujah and higher in Basra and Mosul; in a very narrow sense Cole's post has been accurate. But in a larger sense, his appreciation was totally wrong. Think of what it means for anyone to dare vote in Fallujah at all, despite the penalties prescribed by terrorists, some of whom are certain to be kinsmen. And when was the time, at any Faculty meeting, that the halt and the blind tramped in to vote (cars are banned from approaching the polling precincts for security reasons) at the risk of death? If the electoral process was a charade, it was one in which too many participated too willingly.

None of this means that the insurgency in Iraq has finally been beaten down or that only plain sailing lies ahead. But the voter turnouts certainly suggests that the electoral results will stick. It will be very hard to de-legitimize the whole process or cast aside the ballots as if the elections had never happened; not after the sacrifice that the Shi'ites, Kurds and the Sunnis (the risk was all the greater for them) have endured simply to exercise their choice. Commentators have pointed out that elected candidates may subsequently express views which may be regarded as anti-American; but if the US, which is the occupying power, is to be bound by the result, as is consistent with the concept of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, why should 'insurgents' or the Left be able to say 'I won't accept the elections as legitimate'? While that will not prevent them from dismissing the elections or making disparaging noises, all but the most obtuse will understand that they can't be undone and will move on instead to the next point of criticism. Which means the elections weren't a joke after all, except on Cole. And did we win? Who knows? But many Iraqis think they did.