Hope and Reality in Iraq

Article excerpt

The determination and hopefulness of Iraqis on election day were captured in many dispatches, none better than in one by British journalist Robert Fisk. "Even as the explosions thundered over Baghdad," he wrote, "the people came in their hundreds and then in their thousands. Entire families, crippled old men supported by their sons, children beside them, babies in the arms of their mothers.... Just after voting started, there were 30 detonations in the city in less than two minutes--but still they came as if on a family day out."

However large the turnout may have been (and immediately, especially in the European press, questions were raised about initial rosy estimates) the fact that so many Iraqis risked the dangers they did says something profound about most people's desire to decide for themselves how they are to be governed. As one man told Fisk, "We only had military coups and revolutions before. We voted 'yes' or 'yes.' Now we vote for ourselves."

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that the elections mark a major change in Iraq's fortunes. For one thing, the participation of Sunnis, who make up about 20 percent of the population, was extremely low, causing the leading Sunni clerics to declare that the election "lacks legitimacy." This suggests major problems ahead as those chosen in the election begin the process of negotiation and compromise necessary to create a viable state. Adding to the problems of the new officials, their authority will be compromised as long as masses of Americans remain ensconced in Baghdad's Green Zone like the colonial powers of old.

Moreover, as long as the US occupation continues, the insurgency is likely to continue--possibly even to grow. The Bush Administration interpreted the turnout as a vindication of its policies. But it's important to recall that this past June, after we were told that the transfer of sovereignty would lead to progress on the ground, the situation only got worse. (It's also worth noting that if it had been up to the Bush Administration, there never would have been an election; US proconsul Paul Bremer wanted to set up what would have been essentially a puppet regime, and it was only after dire threats from Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani that the White House grudgingly agreed to allow elections to take place. …