22 January 2005

The mission for a democratic Iraq

By Ian Sinclair

In his book, Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis argues the public's understanding of Britain's real role in the world is being obscured by the mainstream media, which "promotes one key concept that underpins everything else - the idea of Britain's basic benevolence." Criticism of foreign policy does take place, but always within narrow limits which show 'exceptions' to, or 'mistakes' in, promoting the basic rule of benevolence. Thus, a regular EDP columnist has written that "the mission for a democratic Iraq" is "still not successfully concluded."

The historical record clearly shows, rather than promoting democracy and human rights in the Arab world, Anglo-American foreign policy has been systematically opposed to these ideas. For example, in 1953 the US and UK instigated a coup against the popular, nationalist government of Iran, installing the brutal Shah. Amnesty International observed the Shah's regime slaughtered 10,000 Iranians and held over 25,000 political prisoners. This week the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh exposed renewed US interest in Iranian affairs, reporting that the neo-conservatives are contemplating whether to extend the 'war on terror' to Iran, with Special Forces already operating in the county.

Or what about the continuing US/UK support for Saudi Arabia? In Saudi Arabia there is no freedom of association or expression, peaceful demonstrations are banned and women are pervasively discriminated against. There are no political parties, non-governmental organisations, trade unions or independent local media. In November 2003, Tony Blair said he counted Saudi Arabia as "a good friend" and hoped in the future our two countries relationship "will become even stronger."

More than anything else the US and UK don't like independent, popular governments, who want to do things their own way. This attitude towards democracy was well demonstrated by the distinction made between "old" and "new" Europe in the build up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The former took the same position as the majority of their population (they opposed military action in March 2003) and were condemned by the US and UK. The latter ignored huge domestic opposition (e.g. Italy and Spain) and supported the invasion, and were praised by Washington and London.

In Iraq today the US and UK forces face a fundamental problem: The majority of Iraqis want to kick them out (many opinion polls show this). Therefore, an elected government that reflected Iraqi popular opinion is unlikely to be sufficiently submissive to US and UK interests, and is unlikely to take an 'acceptable' position on the wider Middle East security and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

To this end, the US has consistently stalled on one-person-one-vote elections since the invasion. The popular Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistini called for elections by June 2004. This was blocked by the US, despite British officials claiming early elections in Iraq were viable and that an electoral roll drawn up from a mixture of ration, health and identity cards would be adequate. Salim Lone, the former UN Director of Communications in Iraq, notes the US "put democracy on hold until it can be safely managed."

How this might occur was highlighted by a recent Time magazine story, which reported the existence of a "secret finding… proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favoured by Washington." Furthermore, in July the US-puppet Ayad Allawi made moves to control the media, establishing a committee to impose restrictions on print and broadcast media. The head of the committee told the Financial Times these restrictions would include "unwarranted criticism of the prime minister." There are, of course, less subtle means of rigging the vote. For example, the 100,000 people estimated to have died in Iraq since the invasion certainly won't be voting on January 30.

If the US and UK are serious about establishing an independent, democratic Iraq they would deescalate the violence, not escalate it, and hand over control of the electoral process to the UN. Indeed, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, wrote to the US and UK governments before the recent assault on Falluja, arguing military action "could be very disruptive for Iraq's political transition." Unsurprisingly the day after the US assault began attacks on US forces rose from 80 to 130 a day. Can an election be legitimate when it is conducted under foreign military occupation?

The organisation Global Policy Forum believes Western oil companies could reap profits anywhere between $600 billion and $9 trillion over the next 50 years - as long as Iraq enters into production sharing agreements that offers the companies favourable terms. With such high stakes being played for, it seems highly unlikely the US and UK are going to voluntarily hand real control to the Iraqi population.