Iraq's 30th January election will put Shias in power and be marred by Sunni violence. But it will express Iraqi, not US, ambitions. Bush will cease to call the shots— sooner than the world realisesby Bartle Bull / February 20, 2005 / Leave a comment
The latest recording to emerge from Osama bin Laden’s cave calls for a boycott of this month’s election in Iraq. The Sunni Arab, Saudi-born zillionaire tells 25m impoverished Iraqis—mainly Shias or Kurds—that all who vote will mark themselves as “infidels.” In the same tape, Bin Laden also nominates Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as his “emir” in Iraq. Zarqawi is a Jordanian, a suspected rapist, and presenter of his own home video series, in which he occasionally beheads his guest stars. His al Qaeda of Iraq group is the most visible threat to Sunni Arab participation in the poll. Thankfully, most Iraqis don’t think that people like this deserve a veto over their election.
The election will happen and will happen on time. This is because Iraq’s decision-makers want it to be so, and for better or worse, it is President Bush and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani—the supreme religious authority among Iraq’s Shia majority—who call the shots. But sooner than the world realises, Bush will cease to call the shots. US soldiers will still be in Iraq in February, but they will be there as the guests of an elected government chosen under UN auspices by a big majority on a large voter turnout. The new government will need US troops and dollars, but an elected government dominated by people who fought Saddam in the marshes for decades, and who battled the US marines to a negotiated draw at Najaf, will be far more independent and credible than the current Allawi administration.
The 30th January election is just the first of five steps designed to complete Iraq’s constitution and government-building process by the end of 2005. The 275-member body soon to be elected is charged with proposing a new permanent constitution by 15th August. By 15th October, there must be a national referendum on this permanent constitution. By 15th December, there is to be a new national election that will follow the provisions of the new constitution. And by 31st December this newly elected government is to take over.
Iraqis, then, will go to the polls three times this year—assuming they can agree on a constitution in the autumn. Can the schedule work? For some observers, the Iraqi full-body makeover is a work of fantasy. Others say it is like a television reality show, dealing in real behaviour rendered meaningless by a fake environment. But 90 per cent of Iraqis hope…