Jan 19, 2004
Last week the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq, made some trouble for the Bush administration. He publicly rejected their plans for a caucus-style election to a new interim assembly, to be held by June 30, calling instead for direct elections.
The question is how to hold elections to a new assembly that would take the place of the current Iraqi Governing Council. This current Governing Council is made up of delegates who were hand-picked by the U.S. occupying authority.
The Bush plan is for every province, or "governorate," to hold caucuses made up of carefully selected delegates. These caucuses would then choose the governorates' representatives to the governing assembly.
These caucus delegates who would elect the assembly would be chosen in a very complicated process whose details nobody can really explain. What it comes down to, though, is that the current Iraqi Governing Council – which was chosen by the U.S. – would choose them.
That's right: In the U.S. plan, the folks the U.S. hand-picked will be choosing who will "democratically" choose the next Iraqi government. One U.S. puppet government would choose the next U.S. puppet government!
So why change? Only so Bush, in his own re-election campaign can claim that there are "elections" in Iraq – so things must be getting better.
Of course, the Ayatollah al-Sistani has his own reasons for publicly opposing Bush's plan right now. The Shiites make up over 60% of the Iraqi population, so his political forces could easily control direct elections – and exclude everyone else from power. Not only that, but he can read the U.S. electoral calendar, too. He knows full well that Bush wants some show of Iraqi elections before the U.S. elections. Holding back, showing some opposition now might easily get al-Sistani a better deal in another month or so.
The problem for the U.S. is not whether either plan is democratic. Under the current circumstances, neither plan could be. The problem for the U.S. is how best to control the new government without appearing so openly in control. The new government in no way will mean an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Bush himself admitted that when he said that one of the first things the new government must decide is the status of the American armed forces there. Bush wants a new government that will invite them to stay – giving cover to the continuing occupation.
Faced with al-Sistani's opposition, Bush's representatives are trying right now to tweak their system, to make it what they call more "open and transparent." As the New York Times said last week, "the new hope in Washington... was in effect to make the caucus system look more democratic without changing it in a fundamental way."
So that means they will try to cut some kind of a deal with al-Sistani. Bush wants an election in Iraq so bad, he could even agree to some form of "direct, democratic" election, if they have an "understanding" with al-Sistani. After all, the U.S. has a lot of practice in pretending their puppets are democratically elected heads of state. They pretended for years that there were democratically elected governments in South Vietnam – in order to carry on a war against the whole Vietnamese population.
In any case, there sure is something transparent about these elections – transparently undemocratic!