Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqi Path of Least Resistance

Like most countries today, Croatia has succumbed to growing anti-Americanism and this new phenomenon reflects in the way national media are covering events in Iraq. Almost everyone sees US military presence in that country as a repeat of Vietnam fiasco and whatever happens is interpreted as another phase in upcoming disaster. This reflected in the way Croatian media reported about today's elections. They were more than eager to use headlines emphasising low turnout and unstoppable violence.

However, it seems that estimates of low turnout were premature, to say the least. Turnout was indeed low, but only in Sunni-dominated areas where the voters boycotted the elections, either because of fear or principal disagreement with the whole process. This was apparently more than compensated in Kurdish and Shiite areas where the turnout exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

So, the election turnout is going to be bigger than expected and whatever government comes out of this process is going to have popular mandate together with legitimacy no other government in history of Iraq had.

Of course, Bush and pro-war camp are going to be ecstatic with this surprising turn of events. The mere fact that election went through despite all the hardships is going to be touted as great victory in struggle that didn't look good in past few months.

The main reason why this should be seen as a great victory for Bush and all those who had supported invasion of Iraq is in the elections giving legitimacy to the whole affair. And that very legitimacy was lost when Weapons of Mass Destruction – the alleged reason for war – turned out to be imaginary. However, this election and the new, more-or-less democratic, government to come out of it, gives justification for war. Few people could deny that election like this could have been possible without the violent overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime – something that could have been achieved only with US military might.

Anti-war camp will, of course, grudgingly admit that some of its worst case Iraq election scenarios, at least for time being, didn't materialise. The opponents of the Iraq War could, however, point towards many serious issues – whole areas being excluded from the voting process, flaws in the election law, lack of security, intimidation, vote manipulation, fraud – that might put the legitimacy of the election into question. And they could also point to the fact the elections, regardless of how successful they are, won't stop the insurgency and violence.

On the other hand, some details of today's elections points to them as potential Pyrrhic victory for Bush and pro-war camp.

One of these details is Sadr City, place which also saw incredibly high turnout. Only few months ago Sadr City used to be battleground between US forces and Shiite militias which enjoyed at least some support among its many residents.

It could be argued that at least some of the people who voted today share at least part of the agenda with the militants and insurgents. Most of Iraqis are unhappy with US military presence and most would like to see Americans go. The differences are only in when this should happen and how. It is likely that some of Iraqis saw election as a way to do it with least amount of risk and personal effort.

Iraqis are today probably aware of something that most people in developed democracies tend to forget – voting in elections is the easiest, cheapest and simplest way of political participation for an average individual. It doesn't require individuals to risk life, property or social position by standing for something unpopular. Voting doesn't require financial resources associated with campaigning or free time necessary for demonstrations, strikes or peaceful (or not so peaceful) protests. Voting is, therefore, the most convenient way to express displeasure with government.

And it is very likely that many Iraqis will express that displeasure at the polls – against the government, as well as the force behind it – USA.

With enough time and with global political circumstances changing, this election – touted as glorious Bush's victory – could lead to something that insurgents tried but failed to do with AK-47s, RPGs and suicide bombs.


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