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Elections under occupation in Iraq and Palestine
Washington's "democracy" at gunpoint

January 14, 2005 | Page 1

THE U.S. always claims that its wars and occupations "promote democracy." But Washington is behind elections in Iraq and Palestine this month that will do the opposite--ignore the democratic will of the people, while furthering the U.S. agenda for the Middle East.

That's because elections under occupation help the occupiers, not the people living under occupation.

In Iraq, the U.S. project of "imposing democracy at gunpoint" is taking an enormous human toll. In order to give elections set for January 30 a semblance of legitimacy, U.S. forces are trying to squash the growing rebellion in Sunni areas of Iraq.

But this brutality is itself feeding the anger that underlies the growth of the resistance to U.S. rule--and plunging Iraq into a state of chaos and violence.

In Ninawa province, where the northern city of Mosul is located, only 600 out of 13,000 police are showing up for work--making the task of organizing polling stations impossible. In Anbar province, where Falluja is located, there only 32 polling stations for 800,000 people, according to National Public Radio. Election officials in Anbar are simply too frightened to show themselves on the streets to prepare for the vote.

The same goes for the candidates. "[T]he members of the parties [participating in the election] are hidden in their headquarters surrounded by concrete blocks," said a 52-year-old government employee. "They are conducting their electoral campaign with posters, placards and television advertisements only, but none of them dares to appear among the people in the streets. They are afraid for their own security."

In the Occupied Territories, the ongoing Israeli war on Palestinians allowed last Sunday's presidential election to proceed according to Washington's script. Mahmoud Abbas--the candidate of the Palestinian Fatah movement--won the January 9 election with more than 65 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, Mostafa Barghouti, took no more than 20 percent.

But voter turnout was very low--less than 50 percent according to estimates available as Socialist Worker went to press, compared to 81 percent for local elections last month. That's because few Palestinians are enthusiastic about Abbas--and rightly fear that he will concede yet more Palestinian lands and rights to Israel.

Israel and its backers in Washington went to great lengths to make sure that Abbas--the candidate they viewed as most pliant--had no real opposition. "Mahmoud Abbas is the spice of the meal that was prepared by Israeli cooks in the American kitchen," one woman who lives in the Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan told a reporter.

For Abbas, winning last Sunday was the easy part. Now, he will face Israeli demands to disarm Hamas, reorganize the Palestinian police and return to negotiations where he will be asked to concede even further. If any Palestinian hoped the election would represent a step forward, they are certain to be disappointed--and this, in turn, will fuel the resistance to Israel's occupation.

The U.S. and Israel got what they wanted in the Palestinian presidential election. But in Iraq, with the armed opposition on the rise, the outcome of the elections is much harder to predict--and Washington could face a further crisis.

Initially, the U.S. had resisted holding elections this early, believing that the U.S. occupation authorities would be able to ram through their free-market economic measures and groom a compliant pro-U.S. regime. But the leaders of Iraq's Shia population--who make up 60 percent of the population, but were largely excluded from power by the Sunni elite under Saddam Hussein--are determined to have elections on January 30.

By going on the offensive in Sunni areas while pushing ahead with elections that are guaranteed to give Shiites overwhelming control of the new government, the U.S. has driven Iraq--once a society characterized by secularism--to the brink of a religious civil war. Last week, Brent Scowcroft, Bush Sr.'s national security adviser and until recently a member of Bush Jr.'s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, said, "We may be seeing an incipient civil war at the present time."

But according to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, that's the point. "We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there," Friedman wrote last week. "We don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the U.S. and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the U.S. America cannot win that war. The civil war we want is a democratically elected Iraqi government against the Baathist and Islamist militants."

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials are debating whether to turn to the so-called "Salvador option"--the bloody strategy that Washington used in its 1980s war against left-wing guerrillas in El Salvador, of training and funding death squads to track down and assassinate rebel leaders.

The scheme is to use Kurdish and Shia paramilitaries in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces in order to liquidate the Sunni resistance--and drive a wedge between insurgents and their sympathizers. So it's no coincidence that John Negroponte--who served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during Ronald Reagan's dirty wars in Central America--has taken over as ambassador in Iraq.

We have to expose Washington's "democracy hypocrisy" for what it is--and organize for an end to the occupations that are the source of injustice and oppression for millions of people in the Middle East.

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