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Iraq's sham election deepens ethnic and religious divisions
U.S. fans the flames

January 6, 2006 | Page 12

ERIC RUDER reports on the deepening crisis in Iraq following the December 15 elections.

RESIDENTS OF Baghdad spent New Year's Eve in darkness, filling many with gloom about their prospects in the coming year.

"Baghdad's already sporadic electrical power supply was cut to about an hour [on December 31], causing a legion of private generators to roar steadily and dampening the spirits of millions of Iraqis preparing for New Year's Eve, traditionally a joyous time of fireworks, family gatherings and public outings," reported the Los Angeles Times. "The power outages added to the building frustration over last week's steep increase in gasoline prices. Baghdad residents waited up to three hours in lines...to get fuel, apparently prompted by a shortage and fear of further cuts in subsidies."

The three-fold increase in gas prices and nine-fold increase in diesel prices sparked angry protests across the country, with hundreds taking to the streets and clashing with police in several cities. In the northern town of Rahinawa, at least two protesters were shot dead as Iraqi and U.S. forces tried to clamp down on the growing crowd, which had set fire to an oil company building, two gas stations and four cars.

When Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari ordered the price increases, Iraqi Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum criticized the decision, saying the hikes would devastate poor Iraqis.

In response, Jaafari suspended him for 30 days and replaced him with none other than Ahmad Chalabi, the CIA stooge who helped the Bush administration manufacture its lies about Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction--and who was once favored by the U.S. to run post-invasion Iraq.

The results of Iraq's December 15 election still aren't final, but one outcome that's certain is that the small party founded by Chalabi fared miserably.

"The Shiite religious parties in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) were the big winners--from 70 percent to 95 percent of the vote in the impoverished southern provinces; 59 percent in Baghdad; and nationally, well over 40 percent of the total (they've won in nine of Iraq's 18 provinces, plus the capital)," wrote journalist Pepe Escobar. "It's a relatively unexpected success, considering the dreadful record of Ibrahim Jaafari's Shiite-dominated government.

"All those intimately allied with the U.S. invasion and occupation were big losers. The Iraqi National List of U.S. intelligence asset and former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi--also known as 'Saddam without a moustache,' the man who endorsed the Pentagon bombing of the Shiite holy city of Najaf and Sunni Arab Falluja--got a pitiful 14 percent. Convicted fraudster and former Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi received less than 1 percent in Baghdad. The neoconservatives of the American Enterprise Institute were predicting 5 percent for Chalabi (their overwhelming favorite) and 20 percent for Allawi; that's proof enough they have no clue about what's going on in Iraq."

As Socialist Worker went to press, backroom negotiations continued between the UIA and the Kurdish electoral alliance, which placed second, over forming a parliamentary majority.

Such an arrangement would leave the Iraqi Accord Front, the main electoral bloc of Sunni Muslims, shut out of power--and further entrench religious and ethnic divisions, a fractured outcome that suits U.S. war planners.

Secular nationalist forces that might have offered an alternative to this outcome by campaigning for ethnic and religious unity discredited themselves by collaborating with occupation forces prior to the election--and by forging electoral alliances with pro-U.S. parties. The Iraqi Communist Party, for example, ran on a united election list with none other than Allawi, the head of the interim puppet government set up by the U.S. after the "handover" of power in 2004.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has cultivated support in the Kurdish north. Kurds are the most uniformly pro-U.S. group in Iraq, but they are only about 20 percent of the population.

Since the 2003 invasion, the U.S. has turned to Shiite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population, to be the anchor of a pro-U.S. regime--while excluding Sunni Muslims from power.

Though there have been many examples of Sunni-Shiite unity against U.S. occupation forces since then, the divide-and-conquer tactics of the U.S. have begun to take on a life of their own--with growing reports of Shiite-based death squads, organized within Iraqi army and police units, targeting Sunnis.

As Escobar wrote, "There's some evidence that the murderous chaos unleashed by Shiite death squads may not be 'an accident,' but part of a carefully crafted American strategy, as the Bush administration has constantly added fire to the ethnic furnace as the best diversion to not address Iraq's tremendous social tensions. An atomized and terrorized society is much easier to manipulate, while at the same time, the nonstop bloodshed is the perfect justification for 'staying the course.' The incessant chatter in the U.S. about a partial 'withdrawal' is just chatter."

In fact, the New York Times announced December 30 that U.S. military commanders are planning a sharp increase in the number of advisers and soldiers attached to Iraqi police units--to "supervise" their operations.

While the U.S. may prefer a weak Iraq, it must fear the possibility of Iraq's disintegration, which could plunge the whole oil-rich region into chaos.

But just this outcome has been the subject of recent proposals and speculation. UIA leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim suggested December 31 that "Baghdad province join Kurdistan, the Middle Euphrates, and the deep south as a confederacy with special privileges, overseen by a federal government," according to Iraq expert Juan Cole.

According to Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter, "Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan...[The aim is] to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable."

In any case, the U.S. presence will continue to inflame such divisions. That's why there is no hope of justice and self-determination in Iraq until the U.S. gets its troops out.

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