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WHAT WE THINK
U.S. goal for Iraq's elections:
They want to legitimate occupation

January 28, 2005 | Page 3

THE BUSH administration and its media cheerleaders will declare the "dawning of democracy" in Iraq no matter what happens on January 30. They hope that enough Iraqis manage to cast ballots that the results lend legitimacy to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

But the elections on January 30 have nothing whatsoever to do with democracy.

U.S. generals claim that the residents of only four of Iraq's 18 provinces may not be able to "fully participate" in the voting. "Good news," wrote antiwar journalist Robert Fisk. "Until you sit down with the population statistics and realize--as the generals all know--that those four provinces contain more than half of the population of Iraq."

No one who opposes the U.S. government's war on the Iraqi people should accept that these elections are remotely legitimate.

Resistance attacks designed to disrupt the election--combined with the crackdown on opposition by U.S. occupation forces--could overshadow the voting on January 30. The fear of violence is so great that international election "observers" won't even set foot in Iraq--but will remain safe in Amman, Jordan, apparently relying on reports from U.S. forces to determine if the vote was fair or corrupt.

But the truth is that the entire election process was corrupted--by U.S. occupiers determined that the vote should serve Washington's interests.

Leaders of both Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and the Kurdish ethnic minority have pushed for the January 30 elections--against initial opposition from the U.S.--in the hopes that the vote would be a show of strength in the "new Iraq." This has given the appearance that the elections have a base of support among Iraqis--an impression bolstered by statements by some Shiite leaders that they would press for rapid U.S. withdrawal.

But in return for allowing them to be held, the U.S. arranged for the elections to decide little. The main job of the 275-seat Transitional National Assembly elected on January 30 will be to draw up a new constitution that will lead to elections for yet another government in 10 months.

In all likelihood, Washington is not in immediate danger of being told to leave by a democratically elected Iraqi government.

The U.S. has an agenda in Iraq that rules out genuine expressions of democracy. For one, it wants to control Iraq's vast oil reserves--the world's second largest. Iraq is also central to the Bush administration's vision of expanded American empire in the Middle East--the future home to a network of a dozen military bases, according to the plans of Pentagon hawks.

The January 30 elections have to be seen in the light of these priorities. Left-wing author Frank Brodhead compares the coming vote to the "demonstration elections" Washington oversaw in Vietnam in the 1960s and El Salvador in 1982.

"The purpose of these elections--organized, financed and choreographed by the United States--was to persuade U.S. citizens and especially Congress that we were invading these countries and supporting a savage war against government opponents at the invitation of a legitimate, freely elected government," Brodhead wrote in a commentary posted on ZNet. "The main purpose of a demonstration election is to legitimize an invasion and occupation, not to choose a new government."

Antiwar activists should reject the upcoming elections in Iraq as a sham--just as they must reject all justifications for the continuing occupation of Iraq. The U.S. is hoping that the vote will bolster its control over Iraq, not bring it to an end. It hopes to install a puppet government, but it has also taken the opportunity to stoke ethnic and religious divisions--in a classic attempt to "divide and conquer" the Iraqi people.

The media are certain to focus on resistance attacks to disrupt the election as barbaric assaults by "people who hate democracy," in George Bush's famous words. It is true that some parts of the resistance have carried out attacks on civilians whose role in supporting the continued occupation is debatable at best--though it is equally true that many other resistance groups, including the largest, have opposed these attacks.

But we don't have to support the tactics of the entire resistance to recognize that the struggle to free Iraq from U.S. occupation is a just one that deserves our support.

Resistance attacks on civilians set back the cause of self-determination--for one thing, by giving the occupiers a means of rallying support, as has been clear in the run-up to the January 30 elections. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the violence of the Iraqi resistance can't compare to the much greater violence of the U.S. government. Moreover, those interested in the cause of democracy must acknowledge that the resistance enjoys widespread support among the Iraqi people.

Iraqis deserve the right to determine their own future--without conditions set by the U.S. government. And Iraqis fighting for that right deserve the support of everyone in the antiwar movement.

As one man in Falluja told Robert Fisk: "We are not rejecting this election for the sake of it. We are rejecting it because it is the 'tent' of the occupation. It is the vehicle for the Americans to ensure that [the regime of interim Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi gets back in. And we are still under occupation."

It's the duty of antiwar activists to expose this election for the sham that it is--and keep focused on our demand that the U.S. get out of Iraq now.

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