Big media were misreading Iraq right up to the elections. Were they hoping for failure?by Bartle Bull / March 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
The prettiest Iraqi woman I know told me recently that election day here was “orgasmic.” It certainly started with a bang for me, as a mortar shell landed at about 7.30am not far from where I was living in Sadr City. As I walked the streets, the voting was especially brisk between eight and nine in the morning, and then it appeared to tail off in the late morning.
There was the usual violence in my neighbourhood: a car bomb that killed three people, four mortar shells, sporadic gunfire popping away. By noon, the morning’s eager tone seemed to me to have been replaced by nerves. The prospect of failure and prolonged uncertainty felt on the verge of tipping the balance of confidence and keeping the lazy or doubtful at home.
In Sadr City, according to numerous conversations I have had among Muqtada al-Sadr’s inner echelon, a call had gone out from the young cleric’s headquarters in Najaf that prominent clerics and Mahdi army soldiers were to make themselves seen to be voting. In that huge Shia slum, and elsewhere in Baghdad according to friends I have spoken to, the floodgates burst halfway through the day when people saw that friends and neighbours had had the courage to vote.
By the time the polls closed, at 5pm, the city was stretching smugly out for its post-coital smoke. I walked for miles. There was no traffic for once, so football games were going on everywhere. The cops who in the morning had terrified me with their nerves were now relaxed, and that relaxed everyone else.
The violence, in fact, seemed to spur voters on. There is a fine defiance here. In one incident I did not see but that has been widely reported, a Baghdad policeman spotted a suicide bomber outside a polling station and dragged him away from the crowd before the bomber detonated his belt, killing them both. The queues rose tenfold as the story of the policeman’s martyrdom spread.
Iraq is not about America any more. This has been increasingly true every day since last June, and the failure—or refusal—to recognise this has underpinned much of the misleading coverage of Iraq. In the evenings leading up to the election, I sat on carpets on the floors of a variety of shabby houses in the Baghdad slums. But the daily BBC message I watched with my various Iraqi…