FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Amid Tragedy, Defiance

by ROBERT FISK

The Independent

Baghdad.

Even as the explosions thundered over Baghdad, the people came in their hundreds and then in their thousands. Entire families, crippled old men supported by their sons, children beside them, babies in the arms of their mothers, sisters and aunts and cousins.

That is how the Shia Muslims of Baghdad voted yesterday. They walked quietly to the Martyr Mohamed Bakr Hakim School in Jadriya, without talking, through the car-less streets, the air pressure changing around them as mortars rained down on the US and British embassy compounds and the first of the day’s suicide bombers immolated himself and his victims–most of them Shias–two miles away.

The Kurds voted, too, in their tens of thousands, but the Sunnis–20 per cent of Iraq’s population, whose insurgency was the principal reason for this election–boycotted or were intimidated from the polling stations.

The turnout–estimated at 60 per cent of Iraq’s 15 million registered voters–represented victory and tragedy. For while the Shias voted in their millions with immense courage, the Sunni voice of Iraq remained silent, casting into semi-illegitimacy the national assembly whose existence is supposed to provide America with a political excuse to extricate itself from its “little Vietnam” in the Middle East.

And yes, of course, there was the violence we all expected. There were to be nine suicide bombers in Baghdad–the largest number on a single day anywhere in the Middle East.

An American mercenary and a US soldier were among the first to die in Baghdad when mortars exploded, then more than 20 voters–four slaughtered beside a polling station in Sadr City–were cut down; before dusk came news that an RAF C-130 Hercules transport aircraft had crashed 25 miles north-west of Baghdad, en route to the largely insurgent-held city of Balad, the site of a big US airbase. In all, almost 50 men and women were killed across Iraq.

But how many were killed on the RAF aircraft? Tony Blair’s strangely fearful statement about the election last night acknowledged some dead, but would give no other details. Why not? Were there three British crew dead? Or five? Or many, many more? And were there US passengers? President Bush also referred to US dead, as if it included more than the two killed in the morning. Was there something that might be revealed today, when the “success” of the elections had been polished without a tragedy to tarnish it?

Of course, it was the sight of thousands of Shias, the women in black “hijab” covering, the men in leather jackets or long robes, the children toddling beside them, that took the breath away. If Osama bin Laden had called these elections an apostasy, many did not heed his Wahabi threats. They came to claim their rightful power in the land–that is why Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the grand marja of the Shias of Iraq, told them to vote–and woe betide the US and British if they do not get it.

For if this election produces a parliamentary coalition that splits the Shias and turns their largest party into the opposition, then the Sunni insurgency will become a national uprising.

“I came here,” a man told me in Jadriya, “because our grand marja told us voting today was more important than prayer and fasting.” Even the local election agent was close to tears. Taleb Ibrahim admitted to me that he had participated in Saddam’s one-man elections but this day marked the moment when the Shias–after refusing to take revenge on their Baathist oppressors–would show magnanimity.

Even if the Sunnis were boycotting the poll, he said, “there is an old saying that ‘if the father becomes angry, we will have no problems with his sons’. We will make sure that these sons, the Sunnis, have equal rights with us.” At one polling station, I asked the first of the young Iraqi soldiers who were to check us–all, I should add, wore black woollen face masks so that they could never be identified–if he was frightened. “It doesn’t matter,” he said very firmly. “I am ready to die for this day. We have got to vote.” Seven hours later, I talked to him again and now he, too, had the indelible ink on his forefinger. “It’s like you can change your future or your faith,” he said. “We only had military coups and revolutions before. We voted ‘yes’ or ‘yes’. Now we vote for ourselves.”

It was easy to be maudlin about such words, to imbibe the false optimism of the Western television networks and the nonsense about Iraq’s “historic” day–for it will only have been historic if it changes this country, and many fear it will not.

No one I met yesterday believes the insurgency will end. Many thought it would grow more ferocious and the Shias in the polling stations said with one voice that they were also voting to rid Iraq of the Americans, not to legitimise their presence.

On the streets yesterday, the Americans deployed thousands of troops, most of them trying to show some respect for the people. A certain Captain Buchanan from Arkansas even ventured a political thought. “It’s a pity the Sunnis aren’t voting–it’s their loss,” he said. But of course it is also Iraq’s loss and, in a direct way, the Shias’ loss too–and possibly America’s. For without that vital minority component, who will believe in the new parliament or the constitution it is supposed to produce or the next government it is supposed to create?

I asked a Sunni Muslim security guard yesterday what he thought would be the future of his country. He had not voted, of course–in many Sunni cities, only a third of the polling stations opened–but he had thought a lot about the question.

“You cannot give us ‘democracy’ just like this,” he said. “That is one of your Western, foreign dreams. Before, we had Saddam and he was a cruel man and he treated us cruelly. But what will happen after this election is that you will give us lots of little Saddams.”

 

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail