Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 28, 2003; Page A20
SAMARRA, Iraq -- U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.
The decision to deny Iraqis a direct role in selecting municipal governments is creating anger and resentment among aspiring leaders and ordinary citizens, who say the U.S.-led occupation forces are not making good on their promise to bring greater freedom and democracy to a country dominated for three decades by Saddam Hussein.
The go-slow approach to representative government in at least a dozen provincial cities is especially frustrating to younger, middle-class professionals who say they want to help their communities emerge from postwar chaos and to let, as one put it, "Iraqis make decisions for Iraq."
"They give us a general," said Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for mayor until that election was canceled last week. "What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city."
The most recent order to stop planning for elections was made by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of Iraq. It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.
In the capital, Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections for a city government, but have said they are forming neighborhood councils that at some point will play a role in the selection of a municipal government.
L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator of Iraq, said in an interview that there is "no blanket prohibition" against self-rule. "I'm not opposed to it, but I want to do it a way that takes care of our concerns . . . . Elections that are held too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very carefully."
"In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win," Bremer said. "It's often the best-organized who win, and the best-organized right now are the former Baathists and to some extent the Islamists." Bremer was referring to members of Hussein's Baath Party and religiously oriented political leaders.
Bremer and other U.S. officials are fearful that Islamic leaders such as Moqtada Sadr, a young Shiite Muslim cleric popular on the streets of Baghdad, and Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, leader of the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would be best positioned to field winning candidates.
Translation: "the lot we don't want to win are the best placed to win." An addition to the famous Iraqi deck of cards ... the Yellow Card.
So there is going to be some means whereby these "best organised" will be disorganised? Are they the "best organised" because they are the two largest coherent/identifiable political groups? Where are the U.S. officials' alternatives? Do I detect a whiff of Chile in the air here? If these currently "best organised" still win after the U.S. officials' *reorganisation* of goal posts on the U.S. manufactured levelled playing field ... then what? The support troops from the Florida electoral office spin their magic? If they don't, will they just go away? Will the Iraqi population be so gobsmacked by the overwhelming benefits of the U.S. officials' socially and politically engineered election result that they will brook no opposition. Does "the Iraqi in the street" feel comforted by the former Iraqi military men US officials have selected to run the cities?
These questions are only partly rhetorical. My impression that they don't have a clue what to do or how to do it. It isn't quite as simple as it first seemed ... send in the troops, remove Saddam, flowers for the liberators, democracy breaks out all over Iraq and everything in the garden is lovely.
Bloody foreigners! No wonder we don't want them in our patch.