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John Simkin

Elections in Iraq

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Similarly, most Iraqis were brought up in an atmosphere of extreme cruelty during Saddam´s reign of terror. Max Vad der Stoel, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human rights in Iraq, told the U.N. that the brutality of the Iraqi regime was"of an exceptionally grave character - so grave that it has few parallels in the years that have passed since the Second World War". This was a regime that would gouge out the eyes of children to force confession from their parents. This was a regime that would crush all the bones in the feet of a two-year-old girl to force her mother to divulge her father's whereabouts.

Similar evidence has been produced for the Saudi regime which has the full support of the US, for the Contras in Nicaragua who had the full support of the US, for the regime of Pinochet which had the full support of the US, for virtually every brutal and repressive regime in the world which has the support of the almighty dollar.

And....perhaps we should remember....also the Saddam regime in Iraq which the Americans supported when it suited them ....and of course that nice Mr Osama Bin Laden....trained and financed by the CIA.

Your fake indignation does not impress me.

The idea that it is "the white man's burden" to civilise these "lesser breeds without the law" was pathetic and ridiculous when it was voiced by Kipling....it has not improved with age.

Have a nice day.

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However, we now know that the CIA (Black Operations Unit) were active in undermining the democratic process in those countries in Europe where the communists were in danger of being elected to power (Italy and Greece).

One of the weaknesses with “democracy” is that undemocratic forces can win democratic election in order to abolish the democracy directly afterwards. This is very frustrating but if democratic forces try to prevent it they are immediately accused of being undemocratic themselves. This situation is basically “Catch 22” moment.

Dictatorial ideologies like Communism and Nazism mastered this situation at the outmost during 20th century.

Should this situation be prevented somehow? I believe that it should. You probably believe that it shouldn´t.

Achieving the right to have democratic elections was the most important victory achieved by the British people. The reason being that all the other rights we now enjoy came out of that victory. However, it was achieved by mass struggle. It was not imposed on us by an occupying power.

I fully support the introduction of democratic elections in Iraq (although I expect I will not like the result – the left were completely destroyed under Saddam Hussein). The problem is that George Bush is not willing for free elections to take place in Iraq (like me, he knows what the result is going to be). If you listen carefully to what Bush and Blair are saying you will realise that they have stopped talking about the right of the Iraq people to have free elections. Instead they are talking about the need for “democratic institutions” (in other words, American controlled institutions). Blair said last week that the Allies cannot allow a Muslim fundamentalist government to emerge in Iraq. I would argue that it is a matter for the Iraqi people to decide what kind of government they have. Once again this just illustrates the problems of using military force to impose "democracy".

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I would argue that it is a matter for the Iraqi people to decide what kind of government they have. Once again this just illustrates the problems of using military force to impose "democracy".

Consequently, the most powerful and organized group(s) in Iraq will impose their brand of "democracy (or whatever) through the barrel of a gun" on the Iraqi people.

In terms of stemming the voiolence in Iraq, with the death tolls mounting at an ever-quickening pace, I think both arab as well as non-arab muslim countries may be the only ones that can be the moderators/facilitators for the Iraqi people if massive bloodshed is to be avoided. Of course, that is to say that there are countries out there that can not only exert enough pressure on the groups in Iraq, but also want to do so.

As to how to get the occupiers out of Iraq, I think electoral pressure, along with friendly country pressure (read France and Germany, principally, but with more countries, like Spain, getting on board), may be the most effective route. After all, the major players aren't so far down the slippery path yet so as to have leaders bold enough to actually carry out a coup d'etat in their own country.

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1. In substance, no. The Soviet Union was possibly marginally better at supporting women's rights, building roads, suppressing the drugs trade, etc. However, even if they had been stars at providing material improvements, it wouldn't have altered the fact that they invaded another country illegally and attempted to impose their will on it by force.

2. I don't remember Gandhi's quote exactly, but he made the observation during the struggle against the British in India that even if the Indians made a mess of running the country, it would be *their* mess, which was better than a British success. That's the fundamental principle which Bush's clique of right-wingers haven't grasped.

1. Your evaluation of the Soviets Red Army’s war on and subsequent ten years long occupation of Afghanistan surprised me a lot. Do you have this kind of view of the Russian´s Chechenya war of today too? That woman there actually do better living now or that Russians engage in “building roads, suppressing the drugs trade” etc.?

Nevertheless yours somehow not altogether negative view of Afghan war suggests that you do have ability to see that some wars and some occupations actually could have better results than others. Is our disagreement only about which kind of war it is? You seem to favour socialist wars ……

2. I do disagree with Gandhi. I do believe that most of the people would rather live in the free and democratic societies (as emigrations flows daily show when people of all kinds “vote by feets” rather than casting ballots in manipulated elections at home) than in political “mess” which is as you quoted Gandhi accepted on the ground that it’s domestic made “mess”.

History did many times clearly show that this kind of political ”mess” is not for the benefit of the people but for the rich and powerful click which often actually do not represent people.

Furthermore these political “mess” must often be repaired at high cost by outside forces in the end or by costly, endless and largely ineffective foreign aid paid by outsiders. Doesn’t situation in Liberia of today, Rwanda of yesterday and Khmer Rouge republic of seventies clearly show this? And how much will the human cost of accepting Mughabi´s homemade "mess" in Zimbabwe be in the near future?

After all we do live in a globalized world today where not single one dictator should have a possibility to hide the fact that he is tormenting its own people. So how to prevent the Castro’s Cuba? Or Kim Il Jong´s North Korea? Or Saddam´s Iraq? By voting in the United Nations? And hoping for the best? Sometimes it worked mostly it did not.

Edited by Dalibor Svoboda

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Dalibor, perhaps I'm not expressing myself clearly enough. I was against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, despite any material benefits it may have brought - and there were some.

I am against the Russian actions in Chechnya … and the British actions in the American colonies in the 1770s … and just about all the actions and policies of the British Colonial Office throughout the British Empire … and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba … and the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968 … and the suppression of the anti-Communist revolt in East Germany in 1953 … have I given you a sufficiently varied list for you to see that for me it isn't a question of right or left - just right or wrong. And in my book an invasion of a foreign country in defiance of the international legal system it's taken us centuries to establish is always wrong.

As for the question of how you get rid of a Saddam Hussein without recourse to an illegal invasion, of course there are lots of ways - it's just that the UK and the USA didn't try them out. By the way, I'm also convinced that there isn't one single set of policies which will work in every situation. If the EU immediately withdrew all of Israel's preferential trading policies and banned products exported illegally from the occupied territories, I'm fairly sure that that oppressor would be forced to the negotiating table. Such a policy wouldn't have worked against Saddam … because Iraq was not in the same situation as Israel is.

Let's take Cuba as a case study. Castro was definitely popular in 1959 - who wouldn't be when the opposition was an American puppet, supported by the mafia? Whether the Cuban people really knew what they were getting is another question.

Then comes the US trade embargo, whose main effect seems to have been to buttress Castro's regime in every possible way. But what about if the US had instead said: we don't agree with your policies, but we'll keep all our links open, and encourage US citizens to keep on visiting Cuba on holiday. In the 1970s, if Cubans could afford cars at all, their choice was one or other of the various Soviet models. Imagine if they'd been able to buy 1970s American cars to replace their 1950s American cars. How long would it have been before people had risen up against oppression? In other words, the Soviet system lasted a matter of months, once the Berlin wall fell. How long would Castro have lasted as the Cuban people saw the contrast between his regime and the alternative right in front of their eyes?

The problem is how to handle the situation after the fall of the dictator. Our track record in the west has been truly awful. In the case of Cuba, the challenge will be to retain Cuba's health system, education system, medical research, etc, and to keep out the mafiosi of Florida. If Russia and Central America are anything to go by, the result of the West's actions against Cuba all these years will be to tip the Cuban people out of the frying pan and into the fire … a bit like we're doing to the opponents of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq right now.

Edited by David Richardson

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Interesting article David. I found his explanations of how wars of liberations have changed in recent years.

Epochal change inevitably brings into question old assumptions. The end of the cold war clearly belongs to this category. The Americans regarded the war against North Vietnam as a crucial plank in the fight against communism: if South Vietnam should fall, the domino effect would surely follow. Self-determination, though, was no creature of communism. True, the great anti-colonial struggles historically coincided with the high tide of communism and some of the most effective protagonists of people's war were communist parties. Moreover, the Soviet bloc gave sustenance and support to these struggles, while the west was almost invariably arraigned as their enemy. But self-determination and people's war were, and remain, utterly distinct phenomena, quite independent of communism.

This lesson seems to have been forgotten by the Americans and by many others in the west as well. Come Iraq, it was as if the power and virtue of self-determination and people's war belonged to another, bygone era, without application to the times in which we live. They had gone the same way as so much else during that absurd decade of the 1990s, when everything of worth was "new", and history was only relevant to the past. Perhaps also the western mind was diverted by the fact that, following the heroic achievements of the Vietnamese, many self-determination struggles took the form of extremely bloody and unpleasant ethnic wars, with minority national groups seeking independence from what they saw as their new oppressors.

A year ago, at the time of the invasion of Iraq, few anticipated, least of all the Bush administration, that there would be any sustained resistance. On the contrary, Bush and Blair expected the "coalition" troops to be embraced as liberating forces: after all, with good old western imperial hubris, were they not the bearers of our own infinitely superior values? The new breed of liberal imperialists, refugees from the left, swallowed that whole and forgot the lessons of half a century of history. Even when the resistance began to get under way, it was almost invariably described - by governments and media alike - as the remnants of the Saddam regime, together with foreign terrorists, and thereby summarily dismissed.

It is now clear to everyone - apart from Donald Rumsfeld and his cronies - that, far from being a rump of Saddamist malcontents, the resistance enjoys broad based support among the Sunnis and increasingly the Shias too. The old truths are alive and well. People do not want to be ruled by an alien power from thousands of miles away whose interests are self-serving. The resistance in Iraq bears all the hallmarks of a people's war for self-determination.

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One wonders how long it will take the Americans to realise that they are bogged down in Iraq and they have to withdraw.. The British did not withdraw from Afghanistan because they saw the error of their ways; the Soviet Union did not withdraw from Afghanistan because they saw the error of their ways. In both cases they realised that the cost outweighed the benefit.

And how much blood - the blood of unarmed civilians mainly - will have been shed before they realise?

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I just don’t see how the Coalition can back down from their commitments in Iraq. Granted, aggressive US tactics will do little to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi people, but it is vital that the task is seen through right till the end. The UN should put together the arrangements for the transitional government from 30 June and Coalition forces will still be required to remain in the country for the sake of security. Understandably many Iraqis are losing patience with the Coalition. They see ‘occupation’ not ‘liberation’. Given the history of the area, this is hardly surprising.

However, this is not the time to ‘cut and run’ as many people seem to be suggesting. If this were to happen, Iraq would be left at the mercy of radical armed factions and no doubt face years of upheaval and lawlessness. It is time to get behind the efforts to establish a democratic Iraq. It will be a long and painful process and I certainly don’t always agree with Bush’s modus operandi, but what alternative do we realistically have? Heavy UN involvement in reconstructing the country is a must. Iraqis need to feel valued in their own country. That means providing Iraqis with job and educational opportunities. It will be a long and painful process, but this is not the time to shirk responsibility.

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I understand your sentiments about 'cutting and running' and I fully support the need to keep the offer of help and commitment available.

However, I really don't think that the alternative of *not* cutting and running is still available - any more than it was to any of the other colonial powers in the last days of their rule. The only alternatives I can see cover the *manner* of the departure of the occupiers. Let's look at some of those alternatives: a) the Vietnam pullout - with nearly 30 years of post-conflict hostility from the USA, and a refusal to take any responsibility for reparation or rehabilitation; B) the Angola pullout - where the departing Portuguese systematically destroyed everything they could, down to smashing lightbulbs and burning the plans of Luanda's sewerage system; c) the Hong Kong pullout - an ordered departure, which took place within a legal framework. I feel that the odds are on alternative a).

Unfortunately, the option of 'saving' a moderate Iraq from Islamic fundamentalism disappeared when Bush and Blair invaded unilaterally - the only question I can see now is how we shorten the period of chaos Iraq is headed for.

I think that there is prima facie evidence that US troops (especially in Fallouja) have committed war crimes - at least exactly similar behaviour carried out by soldiers of other nationalities has been described that way. I'm thinking of their cavalier disregard for the provisions of Geneva conventions about the treatment of non-combatants. How on earth can armed forces with that charge hanging over them possibly have a positive role to play in the reconstruction of the country?

Edited by David Richardson

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I understand your sentiments about 'cutting and running' and I fully support the need to keep the offer of help and commitment available.

However, I really don't think that the alternative of *not* cutting and running is still available - any more than it was to any of the other colonial powers in the last days of their rule. The only alternatives I can see cover the *manner* of the departure of the occupiers. Let's look at some of those alternatives: a) the Vietnam pullout - with nearly 30 years of post-conflict hostility from the USA, and a refusal to take any responsibility for reparation or rehabilitation; B) the Angola pullout - where the departing Portuguese systematically destroyed everything they could, down to smashing lightbulbs and burning the plans of Luanda's sewerage system; c) the Hong Kong pullout - an ordered departure, which took place within a legal framework. I feel that the odds are on alternative a).

Unfortunately, the option of 'saving' a moderate Iraq from Islamic fundamentalism disappeared when Bush and Blair invaded unilaterally - the only question I can see now is how we shorten the period of chaos Iraq is headed for.

I think that there is prima facie evidence that US troops (especially in Fallouja) have committed war crimes - at least exactly similar behaviour carried out by soldiers of other nationalities has been described that way. I'm thinking of their cavalier disregard for the provisions of Geneva conventions about the treatment of non-combatants. How on earth can armed forces with that charge hanging over them possibly have a positive role to play in the reconstruction of the country?

The bombings in Basra today clearly demonstrate that Iraq is a long way from being secure. From June 30th I hope the situation will improve, but until it does Coalition forces should remain in Iraq to necessitate a smooth transition to a viable Iraqi state.

I would also hope that your third alternative remains a probability. Iraq will need continued financial commitment for years to come and the heavy involvement of the UN. If this happens, then there is a chance Iraq will not fall to Islamic fundamentalism.

I admitted earlier that US forces have been heavy-handed. Numerous British officers have voiced their own concerns about the way Bush has handled the situation. His strategy for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq is muddled at best. John Kerry is correct to criticise Bush for this, in my opinion.

As for the treatment of non-combatants, the kidnapping of civilians by groups opposed to the Coalition is despicable. The killing of Italian Fabrizio Quattrocchi last Wednesday is unforgivable, as is today’s tragedy in Basra affecting schoolchildren amongst others.

A job remains to be done in Iraq. The Iraqi people should not be left at the mercy of another fanatical dictator. American tactics must change and I hope they begin to tread carefully around Najaf and Falluja. Let's not forget that US forces have come under heavy fire and suffered many casualties themselves.

Mistakes were made last year. The Iraqi army should not have been disbanded and too many US troops went home after the war. A security vacuum has been created in Iraq and until the Iraqis are up to policing their own country, the Coalition forces should remain in place.

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I just don’t see how the Coalition can back down from their commitments in Iraq. Granted, aggressive US tactics will do little to win ‘the hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi people, but it is vital that the task is seen through right till the end. The UN should put together the arrangements for the transitional government from 30 June and Coalition forces will still be required to remain in the country for the sake of security. Understandably many Iraqis are losing patience with the Coalition. They see ‘occupation’ not ‘liberation’. Given the history of the area, this is hardly surprising.

However, this is not the time to ‘cut and run’ as many people seem to be suggesting. If this were to happen, Iraq would be left at the mercy of radical armed factions and no doubt face years of upheaval and lawlessness. It is time to get behind the efforts to establish a democratic Iraq. It will be a long and painful process and I certainly don’t always agree with Bush’s modus operandi, but what alternative do we realistically have? Heavy UN involvement in reconstructing the country is a must. Iraqis need to feel valued in their own country. That means providing Iraqis with job and educational opportunities. It will be a long and painful process, but this is not the time to shirk responsibility.

It is true that any withdrawal in Iraq will lead to a large numbers of deaths. That is of course what those who opposed the invasion said would happen. There will also be a lot of deaths while the allied troops remain in Iraq. There is no easy solution to this problem. Nor can we just hand over the problem to the United Nations. They have been fully compromised and are no longer seen as a neutral force.

Democracy, even if it really was what Bush and Blair were trying to impose, will not solve this problem. In fact, it is likely to make the problem worse. Free elections will only reveal just how divided the people in Iraq are. It is bound to result in a bloody civil war that will be similar in scale to what happened in Yugoslavia after the fall of communism. Both countries had unnatural boundaries but this has been disguised by being run as military dictatorships. Democracy is hopefully the long-term answer but it cannot be imposed by an occupying power.

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John Simkin Posted on Apr 22 2004, 11:59 AM

Free elections will only reveal just how divided the people in Iraq are. It is bound to result in a bloody civil war that will be similar in scale to what happened in Yugoslavia after the fall of communism. Both countries had unnatural boundaries but this has been disguised by being run as military dictatorships.

I think you're right on target, and I fear it is the Kurds who will fare the worst.

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It is true that any withdrawal in Iraq will lead to a large numbers of deaths. That is of course what those who opposed the invasion said would happen. There will also be a lot of deaths while the allied troops remain in Iraq. There is no easy solution to this problem. Nor can we just hand over the problem to the United Nations. They have been fully compromised and are no longer seen as a neutral force.

Democracy, even if it really was what Bush and Blair were trying to impose, will not solve this problem. In fact, it is likely to make the problem worse. Free elections will only reveal just how divided the people in Iraq are. It is bound to result in a bloody civil war that will be similar in scale to what happened in Yugoslavia after the fall of communism. Both countries had unnatural boundaries but this has been disguised by being run as military dictatorships. Democracy is hopefully the long-term answer but it cannot be imposed by an occupying power.

I agree that democracy is the long-term answer. I also agree that the fulfilment of a democratic Iraq is not an easy task. The Coalition is also correct to warn of further attacks as we approach June 30th. The USA and her coalition partners must grit their teeth and get on with it. The process of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure must continue over the weeks and months ahead. If this happens, then I believe democracy has a chance in Iraq. Should the troops now just leave Iraq? Surely, that would just lead to a bloodbath and years of internal strife. Perhaps, another dictatorial figure would emerge. Deserting the Iraqi people now will surely only inflame the already precarious situation.

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I've been working with the technical services of the Swedish Army for a good number of years, helping to train them to speak the 'right' kind of English when they're on peace support operations (as they're called). There's a useful distinction made in their joint military doctrine (which has been adapted from UN and NATO practice) between war, peace enforcement and peace keeping.

The difference between war and peace enforcement is partiality and impartiality. If you're a party to the conflict or supporting a party to the conflict, you're at war. If you're not, you could be eligible for peace enforcement duties.

The difference between peace enforcement and peace keeping is the consent of the civilian population. If they consent to you being there, you can take part in peace keeping. If they don't, you have to enforce the peace. The ultimate aim of all peace support operations is not to be necessary - in other words, peace keeping not even peace enforcement.

It strikes me that the British and US forces are parties to the conflict. This rules them out as peace enforcers - what they're doing at the moment is continuing to fight the war. The longer they stay, the longer the war continues. It may be that one day soon we'll be in a situation where peace enforcement, or even, let's hope, peace keeping can occur. We'd first have to find armies which were not parties to the conflict (i.e. none of the armies currently in Iraq). Ideally we'd need armies which were there by the consent of the people in Iraq. I suppose that the ideal one would be … an Iraqi Army, but it'd have to be an army which had no ties at all with any of the parties to the conflict, including the Kurdish peshmerga.

Edited by David Richardson

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