Curfew Measures on Election Day
Events conspired to undermine the Iraqi government’s attempts to reassure the public that procedures for voting would be secure. Judge Wael Abdul Latif, a Basra notable of Shiite heritage who serves as Federal minister for provincial affairs, announced that severe restrictions would be placed on automobile traffic near polling stations and even within provinces altogether on Election Day. The hope is to prevent Baathist and Salafi fundamentalist guerrillas from using car bombs to kill the voters standing in line at polling places and so wreck turnout.
Unfortunately, car bombs are only one way the guerrillas could attack the thousands of polling sites, which are the ultimate soft target. Guerrillas have successfully used mortar and rocket fire, and machine gun attacks, against guarded facilities, and have even managed to ram car bombs into areas where automobiles had been prohibited.
As if to mock Judge Abdul Latif, Iraqis discovered a raft of dead bodies at various places in the country. Thirteen corpses were discovered in Latifiyah in Babil province, shot at close range. They were said, according to al-Sharq al-Awsat, to have received death threats for working with the foreigners. At al-Suweira in the Shiite south, Western wire services said that four Iraqis turned up dead who had been working for a foreign company. In nearby Kut, al-Sharq al-Awsat says that four civilians were caught in the crossfire in a battle in northwest Kut between Coalition troops and local gunmen. The four were wounded and taken to the hospital. They consisted of a driver, two women and a little girl. The most likely fighters in northwest Kut are Mahdi Army, but the report did not identify the insurgents. The idea that the Shiite areas are quiet is challenged by such reports. Even Basra in the deep south, far from Baath centers of power, still is a place where machine gun fire rings out in the distance from time to tiem.
North of Baghdad, authorities dragged yet another victim from the water. Security this bad, the incidents seemed to scream, can’t be addressed with some restrictions on traffic. An Iraqi employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad also recently disappeared and his body was found Saturday.
Guerrillas in Samarra launched two separate attacks, killing 4 Iraqi soldiers in one and a fifth in another. In Kirkuk, guerillas attacked a police checkpoint near the US base, killing a policeman and wounding four others. In Hit, in troubled Anbar province to the West, guerrillas abducted 15 Iraqi national guardsmen the day before yesterday.
In another cycle of violence, guerrillas fired three mortar shells into the Green Zone, which houses government offices and the US Embassy at downtown Baghdad. Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that one mortar fell near a police outpost, wounding two. It was the third straight day that the Green Zone took mortar fire. Guerrillas detonated a roadside bomb as a US convoy passed in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad, destroying a truck. No word as of this writing on casualties. Guerrillas in Mosul launched an attack on a US convoy, which fought back. The fighting damaged nearby shops and homes.
Guerrillas in Ramadi fired a rocket at a government building, then roamed in bands in the downtown area. In Qaim near the Syrian border, guerrillas kidnapped Lt. Col. Abdul Razzaq al-Salmani. In the same city, two national guardsmen were found dead with bullet wounds.
Friday night the daughter of the assistant to the secretary-general of the Iraqi Council of Ministers was kidnapped. There was also a jailbreak Friday of 28 prisoners from Abu Ghraib.
AFP reports on the hardships faced by people in Mosul, who are shivering through a cold winter with insufficient fuel, cut off from key facilities by the US military’s closing of a bridge, and suffer from death threats and lack of working telephone lines.
Dexter Filkin of the NYT reports on the so-called election campaign in Iraq. He does not himself come out and say it, but the whole process is obviously absurd, with candidates afraid to identify themselves as such meeting secretly with prospective voters equally afraid to admit their plans in public. Some of the few candidates so foolhardy as to announce themselves have turned up dead. I don’t think an election conducted like this can possibly have much legitimacy, and it certainly will not contribute to resolving the guerrilla war.
Al-Hayat Says that interim Finance Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi (from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) said Saturday that a 40 percent to 50 percent turnout among Sunni Arabs would be sufficient to endow the elections with legitimacy.
Al-Hayat also reports that some campaigning is being done by politicians who are already well known as such. Iyad Allawi campaigned in Tikrit on Saturday. The largely Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), held a big news conference in Baghdad, where Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq), Ibrahim Jaafari (Dawa Party), and Ahmad Chalabi (Iraqi National Congress) spoke under a big picture of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
Chalabi said he was sure that Sunni Arab Iraqis would not allow themselves to be dissuaded from voting by a handful of terrorists. Chalabi also denied that there was any formal channel for direct consultation with Sistani by the UIA leaders. He said that Sistani, as a spiritual leader, did not involve himself directly in day to day politics.
Chalabi also replied to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s complaint that the United Iraqi Alliance was illegitimately using Sistani’s picture in its campaign posters, giving the false impression that Sistani had explicitly endorsed this list. Chalabi replied with an attack of his own, complaining that Allawi was using the apparatus of state to publicize his own position and that of his party, the Iraqi National Accord.
Isam al-Rawi, the head of the Iraqi League of Seminary Teachers and a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, explained his organization’s boycott of the elections. He said that AMS was not a political organization but a religious leadership (he actually used the Shiite term, marja’iyyah, showing how Sunnis in Iraq are responding to Sistani’s power by trying to copy some aspects of Shiite clerical hierachalism). He said that they had simply given their view of the best course in the light of Islamic law and national interests. (Again, it is interesting that he invoked both shari’ah or Islamic law and “what is appropriate for the Nation.” Salafis– Sunni fundamentalists– have often been hostile to the idea of nationalism as a European import). He said AMS is not intrinsically opposed to elections as a means of achieving a just governing system, but that they objected to holding them under the shadow of Occupation.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates called Saturday for all Iraqis to participate in the elections. This call follows on that of Egypt and the Rector of al-Azhar University. The US has appealed to Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors to use their good offices to try to convince Iraq’s Sunni Arabs to vote.
In another blow to the US image in Iraq, archeologists have made an initial assessment that the US military damaged the site of ancient Babylon while using it as a military base. The genius that put US and Polish troops on top of such sites should be fired, but won’t be. Al-Jazeerah was making hay all day Saturday with reports of the damage to Babylon by the US, and with interviews with Arab archeologists about the site’s importance to Iraqi history and the history of civilization. Bush keeps talking about how he intends to get through to the Arabs as to the real US role in the world of promoting democracy and prosperity. But he either doesn’t mean it or hasn’t the slightest idea how to go about making a good impression.