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Was the referendum in Iraq rigged?

By Nicole Colson | October 21, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2

ALLEGATIONS OF vote fraud, last-minute political maneuvers and violent repression marked the October 15 referendum on a new constitution for Iraq.

As Socialist Worker went to press, the media were claiming that the constitution "appeared" to have passed. The draft was rejected by a two-thirds majority in two of the country's 18 provinces--one short of the three provinces that would have blocked its passage.

But the Independent Election Commission of Iraq admitted that final results of the referendum would have to be delayed because it was investigating "unusually high" vote totals in 12 provinces where Shiite Muslims or Kurds are the majority. In each of the 12 provinces, the vote in favor of the constitution was over 90 percent, and in some cases hit 99 percent--no small irony given the Bush administration's criticism of elections under Saddam Hussein with similarly high totals.

Some commentators have suggested that the apparent "yes" vote in Ninevah province--where the Sunni city of Mosul is located--is puzzling. According to Iraq expert Juan Cole, "One of my Iraqi-American correspondents compared the turnout statistics from Ninevah and Diyala provinces last January 30 to those coming out now, and found the current numbers completely unbelievable."

The constitution ratification process was thrown up in the air a few days before the referendum by a last-minute compromise put together by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad.

Representatives of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority had protested the draft because of provisions banning former Baath Party members from holding office and allowing provinces to unite and form regional governments. Khalilzad came up with a deal that effectively makes the constitution provisional, allowing parliament to amend it next year.

This prompted the Sunni-based Iraqi Islamic Party to reverse its position and call for a "yes" vote in the referendum. Though this group stood largely alone among Sunnis, the U.S. media hailed the deal as a breakthrough for "unity."

The Bush administration immediately claimed that Iraq is on the road to stability. "This weekend's election is a critical step forward in Iraq's march toward democracy, and with each step the Iraqi people take, al-Qaeda's vision for the region becomes more remote," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

But in a typical case of administration doublespeak, White House officials said Iraq would endure even more violence during the latest step "toward democracy." "The Sunnis are joining the base of this broad political process," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Sunday. "That will ultimately undo this insurgency. But of course, they can still pull off violent and spectacular attacks."

However, the vast majority of violence and repression visited on ordinary Iraqis in recent weeks has come at the hands of U.S. forces--not "insurgents."

In preparation for last week's vote, for example, the country was placed under a national curfew, airports and borders were closed, and car travel was banned on Election Day. U.S. military forces carried out brutal raids in the Sunni-majority Al-Anbar province to, according to U.S. officials, make the referendum "safer."

And just a day after the administration heralded the latest signs of "democracy" in Iraq, U.S. warplanes bombed two villages near the city of Ramadi. The Pentagon claimed it killed 70 "insurgents," but witnesses and reporters on the scene said that at least 39 civilians were killed--including one boy who was no more than 15 years old.

For ordinary Iraqis, a new constitution will do nothing to provide jobs, electricity or the other necessities that years of U.S. sanctions, war and occupation have left them without. As Sinan Yusef, an engineering student in Baghdad told the Independent's Patrick Cockburn, "It is an American constitution written in an Iraqi hand, and I believe it was prepared a long time ago."

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