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Monday, January 31, 2005


Actually, I don't want to always be a "nattering naBOB of negativism," to steal Spiro Agnew's term. If the Iraqi election yesterday wasn't a farce, as the Washington Post and CNN scream from their headlines, it is definitely good news. The Iraqis will get a government with the clear authority and almost certainly the desire to tell the US troops to get the hell out.

But I know from history--the buildup to the war, the triumphalism of the initial battles and the toppling of the statues, to the killing of Saddam's sons and the capture of Saddam himself, that our mainstream media has always been ready to overhype anything remotely like "success" in Iraq. So the current triumphal reports should probably be taken with a huge grain of salt on this basis alone. But from the mainstream reports I didn't have a lot to go on to question the story.

Fortunately, the World Socialist Web Site is there once again with a good summary of the many reasons to doubt the official story. Here are some excerpts:
George W. Bush emerged from the White House briefly to make a triumphal statement hailing the vote. The US media carried wall-to-wall, gushing coverage all day Sunday. But even the combined propaganda powers of the US government and the corporate-controlled media machine cannot transform an election held at gunpoint and under military occupation into a genuinely democratic event.

Initial reports on voter turnout were driven by the political imperative to put the best possible face on the election and influence public opinion in the United States, which is increasingly turning against the war. The turnout figure began at 90 percent plus—numbers reported, naturally enough, on Fox News. Then an Iraqi election official put the figure at 72 percent nationwide. This was subsequently lowered to 60 percent nationwide, then to 60 percent “in some areas.”

The compliant US media dutifully swallowed all these numbers in succession, never challenging their accuracy or questioning how each figure could be so quickly supplanted by a lower one as the day wore on.

The 72 percent figure, for instance, issued just before the polls closed, was inherently improbable, given that most polling places did not even open in the Sunni Triangle. With the vast majority of Sunnis, some 20-25 percent of Iraq’s people, boycotting the election, turnout among the rest of the population would have to be near-unanimous to bring the total up to 72 percent.

The reports on turnout were supplemented by television news footage of happy Iraqis celebrating their new-found freedom to vote, praising the American military, and thanking President Bush. There is ample reason to believe that these scenes were largely staged for the benefit of the media—like the scenes of Iraqis tearing down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square after the US invasion nearly two years ago. (Similar scenes were a hallmark of the Baathist dictatorship as well, with cheering crowds vowing to sacrifice their lives for Saddam.)

According to Robert Fisk of the Independent, a major British daily newspaper, “The big television networks have been given a list of five polling stations where they will be ‘allowed’ to film. Close inspection of the list shows that four of the five are in Shiite Muslim areas—where the polling will probably be high—and one in an upmarket Sunni area, where it will be moderate.” Sunni working class areas were entirely off limits, he noted.

In some cases, the media reports were literally military propaganda handouts. ABC News, for instance, reported thousands of voters in Fallujah, the city virtually destroyed by the US military onslaught last November. The source for this report of surprisingly high turnout was the US military command in the shattered city. Meanwhile, other news outlets put the turnout in Fallujah as minuscule, on a par with the other predominantly Sunni cities where few polls opened and few voters turned out.
More fundamentally, the entire election process is fatally tainted by the US military occupation. The regime that conducted the vote was appointed by the US occupation authorities, with the United Nations giving its rubber-stamp approval. The timing and procedures for the election were determined by US officials. And it was President Bush who decided earlier this month to reject the pleas of a majority of the Iraqi cabinet and oppose any postponement of the vote so as to allow for increased Sunni participation.

January 30 saw an unparalleled display of American military power on the streets of Baghdad, Mosul and other Iraqi cities. The 150,000 US troops were out in force, backed by hundreds of armored vehicles, and supplemented by another 150,000 US-trained Iraqi police and soldiers. Even the American media could not disguise the spectacle of Iraqis filing in to the polls through rolls of barbed wire, being frisked three separate times under the eyes of US snipers, while US helicopters and war planes roared overhead.

It was not a scene of freedom, but one of occupation and brutal subordination.
Within the United States, the government-backed media blitz on the triumph of democracy in Iraq is aimed at intimidating opponents of the war and US occupation. But this propaganda campaign only intensifies the contradictions in the Bush administration’s political position. If the Iraqi people have “taken control of their country,” as the White House claims, why must 150,000 US troops remain there? Why can’t 25 million Iraqis defend themselves from the small bands of foreign terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists who supposedly make up the resistance?

“Democratization” is merely the latest pretext for the US occupation, following the now discredited claims that the US invaded Iraq to destroy Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction or because of Saddam’s alleged connections with the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001. The democracy pretext, too, will be exploded by events.