37 US Troops Dead, Other Americans Wounded
Large numbers of Iraqis Killed, Wounded by Car Bombs at Polling Stations, Party HQs
A U.S. helicopter crashed in a desert sandstorm in the early morning darkness yesterday, killing the 30 Marines and one Navy sailor aboard . . . Six other troops died in insurgent ambushes in the deadliest day for Americans since the Iraq invasion began nearly two years ago. Only days before Iraq’s crucial elections on Sunday, Muslim terrorists set off at least eight car bombs that killed 13 persons and injured almost 40 others, including 11 Americans.
Al-Zaman reports that 13 polling stations and 4 party offices have been attacked since Tuesday evening in Baghdad and to its north. Guerrillas kidnapped 2 election workers in Mosul, and 15 persons were killed and 30 wounded when a car bomb went off in front of the Kurdistan Democratic Party HQ in the city of Sinjar.
In his appearances on Wednesday, President Bush said that it was a positive that Iraqis are even having elections, since three years ago it would have seemed out of the question. You know, if all you have to boast about is that you are better than Saddam Hussein, it isn’t actually a good sign. Can you imagine what would have happened to the Republican Party if its reply to Kerry’s criticisms of last summer had been, “Well, the American Republican Party is a damn sight more progressive than Hitler was.” Saddam was overthrown on April 9, 2003. It is 2005, and the US has been running Iraq for nearly two years. Now the question is, how does the situation in Iraq compare to the Philippines, or India, or Turkey. Answer: It sucks. There is little security, people are killed daily, there is a massive crime wave, and elections are being held in which most of the candidates cannot be identified for fear of their lives. So the conclusion is that the Bush administration has done a worse job in Iraq than the Congress Party does in India, or the AK Party does in Turkey. That’s the standard of comparison once Saddam was gone. And, by the way, veteran NYT journalist John Burns, who is nobody’s fool, told Tina Brown last Friday that he was taken aback when an Iraqi told him recently that he wished Saddam were back. This was an Iraqi who really had been delighted at the American invasion. So Bush should drop the cute sound bite about being better than Saddam.
Veteran Middle East journalist David Hirst talks about the implications for the Arab world of a Shiite victory in the Iraq elections (and of just having open elections). One thing I think Hirst missses is that Ayatollah Khomeini associated Shiism with a republican, anti-monarchy ethos, which is one reason the Arab monarchies are disturbed at the potential Shiite victory. They look at militant Shiism the way King George III viewed Tom Paine.
There are, of course, lots of elections in the Arab world. Some are more rigged than others. But there are almost no elections where the sitting prime minister and his party would be allowed to be turned out unexpectedly by an unpredictable and uncontrolled electorate. If Iraqi interim Prime Minister Allawi’s list does poorly and his political star falls as a result of a popular vote, something democratic will have happened in Iraq, for all the serious problems with the elections.
One of the flashpoints in the elections is Kirkuk. The Kurds have gotten permission for Kurds originally from Kirkuk to vote in provincial and municipal elections as though they were resident in the city. Saddam had kicked a lot of Kurds out of Kirkuk and brought in Arabs, who now fear displacement. About a third of Kirkuk is Turkmens, who used to dominate the city, and they also fear losing it to a Kurdish super-province of Kurdistan. The area around Kirkuk is rich with petroleum. Kirkuk seems to me to be a tinderbox, and if it explodes it will set in motion ethnic conflict between Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen in the north, which could involve Turkey.
AFP discusses the jockeying that is already going on for the post of prime minister. Predicting who will be chosen is very difficult. The parliament will elect a president and two vice presidents, who will form a presidential council. It will then appoint a prime minister. So parliament cannot dictate who the prime minister will be, and it needn’t be the leader of the party that forms the government. We can’t know what the calculation will be, of the presidential council. People have been asking what I thought of the International Republican Institute poll that 61 percent of Iraqis think Allaw has been “effective” in running the country. I find this result hard to believe. Last September an IRI poll found Allawi’s favorability rating was 47 percent and that of Muqtada al-Sadr was 45 percent. IRI did not release the second finding, and my social science friends in Baghdad thought IRI’s polling techniques appallingly bad. I flatly disbelieve that Allawi’s favorability rating has risen since September. Since IRI is selective in releasing its results and doesn’t seem to be running a tight ship in its Baghdad office anyway, it is hard to know what their poll results actually mean and how solidly based they are.
Cihan News Agency examines the issue of whether the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite list that has Grand Ayatollah Sistani’s blessing, will implement shariah or Islamic law on the Iranian model. It is the wrong question. Obviously, the Iraqis will go their own way rather than adopting the Iranian system. The question is what the mix will be in a UIA constitution, of civil law versus relgious law (i.e. shariah). Which will be priveleged and in what situation? That the UIA will insist on some shariah, at least over time, seems to me self-evident.