Iraqi Critics Speak Out on Occupation, Elections

Baghdad — While debate continues in the United States about how best to manage the occupation and nation building of Iraq, the ideas of Iraqis on the matter of what is to happen in their country have been all but completely muted in the West.

Iraqis tend to favor free elections without American influence and setting a timetable for military withdrawal as part of the solution to the bloody quagmire their country has become under foreign control.

Obviously, the ongoing occupation and heightening resistance to it are a major focus for all Iraqis. “What I said during Saddam’s time I say now, that this is a political issue and not a military issue,” said Dr. Wamidh Omar Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University and a long-time secular activist.

Nadhmi was an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein’s government, and he sees ominous parallels today. Accepting the risks of standing up against Ba’athist rule in the 1990s, he and other dissidents offered a solution. “We raised these slogans: Political dialogue, national reconciliation, and transformation to democracy,” he said during a recent interview at his home in Baghdad. “And now I find myself repeating the same solutions.”

The professor is also the official spokesman for the Iraqi National Foundation Congress, a council of intellectuals, community leaders and clerics whose goal is to create an alliance of political parties that work for the betterment of Iraq. The group boasts a diverse membership that includes prominent Shi’ite leaders and Muslim scholars. Also participating are Christian, Turkmen and Kurdish Iraqis and even pre-Saddam era Ba’athists.

“We suggested to the occupation forces and Iraqi government four requirements for an Iraqi election: an international committee of oversight; an immediate ceasefire because we cannot have elections under bombardment and rockets; [the] withdrawal of American troops from the major cities one month before the election…” Nadhmi paused before adding the fourth requirement: “We even gave this international committee the right to delete any name from the list of people running for office if they didn’t like it.”

Instead of accepting the suggestions of his council, which Nadhmi described as prerequisites for a free and democratic election, the interim government declared martial law.

“How can we have a free election under martial law?” he asked. “Instead of a ceasefire, they attack Fallujah. Are they sure that the aftermath will not be bloodier than Fallujah? The martial law is one of the nails in the coffin of this regime. The last pretext for democracy here is now buried. Their declaration of martial law is a declaration of political bankruptcy.”

At the end of October, the Iraqi National Foundation Congress called for a boycott of the January elections.

Another professor at Baghdad University, Dr. Genan Hammed, believes the solution is for the US to withdraw completely from Iraq. “The Americans should go back from where they came from,” she said during a telephone interview. “Get the Iraqi [armed] forces to come back to rule the country, that is the only solution.”

In addition, Hammed said she does not believe elections are feasible in the current climate, especially because political parties were manipulated by the former US-run Coalition Provisional Authority such that certain, favored parties have dominated others. “This is just not the right time for elections,” Hammed said. “The Sunnis don’t have parties, the Kurdish claim to have a majority, everyone is foggy.”

Other Iraqi political activists believe the alternative solution for Iraq is similar to that which many pundits and analysts in the West have been discussing since the early days of the occupation.

“The solution is for the Americans to announce their failure and hand everything to the General Assembly of the UN and not to the Security [Council],” said Dr. Abdul Kareem Hani, who was Iraq’s minister of social affairs under Saddam Hussein. Hani said he prefers the General Assembly have authority because it is “under less American hegemony” than the Security Council, over which the US has veto power. “There is of course large American influence on all the world’s affairs, but at least there is a little less in the Assembly,” he said.

Hani believes the only solution is a UN-appointed interim government — one not aligned with the United States. He cautions that any elections carried out according to the “Bremer laws,” instituted by former American occupation chief Paul Bremer, will be a dismal failure.

“We all believe the Bremer laws have no legal basis, neither here nor anywhere else,” he said from his home in Baghdad. “According to the Geneva Conventions and the Hague, the occupying force has no authority to change the laws of the occupied country.”

The Hague regulations of 1907, which the US ratified, as well as the US Army’s Law of Land Warfare, state that the alteration of an occupied country’s laws is illegal.

“They know this yet they have issued all these laws which are against the good of the people of the country,” Hani concluded. “They are creating more problems every day. What is happening now in Fallujah and all around the country are proof that they do not want to solve the problems — they are keen to produce more problems.”

Of course, Iraqis generally believe settling the tumultuous security situation is paramount; it must be resolved before any real political progress can be made in Iraq.

Ahmed Mahmoud, a 33-year-old unemployed resident of Baghdad, said, “I think the security problem stems from the open borders.” He felt the US military should stay out of the cities in Iraq and allow Iraqis to handle their own security. “If the Americans say the security is bad because of the [terrorists from neighboring countries], then let them go stop them at the borders,” he added.

Many Iraqis believe that a different approach on the part of the US occupiers would have made a major difference. “The US military here is winning all the battles,” said Dr. Nadhmi, “but they are losing the war because they have brought a puppet regime.”

Nadhmi paused, then added, “Any [Iraqi leader] who would respect himself, and thus be respected by the people, would not accept to become a puppet for the Americans or any other foreign power.”

Salman Obeidy, a 55-year-old unemployed carpenter, believes he could have done a better job than the US’s envoys, administrators, generals and ambassadors. “Give me the money the Americans spent to bomb Fallujah,” he said, “I will solve the problem with that money by using it to help Iraqis. They are fighting because they see the Americans as occupiers rather than someone who came to help them.”

If the crux of the problem is truly that simple, and a possible solution has been so close to the US’s grasp, the political fallout from the ongoing invasion of Fallujah cannot be overstated with regard to its effect on the elections scheduled for January 27, 2005.

Tuesday, November 9 saw the first political casualty from the siege of Fallujah, when the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political force in Iraq, withdrew from the Iraqi interim government. “We are protesting the attack on Fallujah and the injustice that is inflicted on the innocent people of the city,” Muhsin Abd Al-Hamid, head of the Party, told Aljazeera. “We cannot be part of this attack.”

The next day, the influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) called upon people to boycott the national elections.

Dr. Harith Al-Dhari, the secretary general of the AMS, defended the prerogative of Iraqis to legally resist the occupation of their country. “We have said we support the resistance since the occupation of this country began,” he said Tuesday. “This is our right as Iraqis. Therefore, we don’t need a fatwa [clerical order] on this issue, as this matter is clear.”

Also on November 10, Ayad Al-Azi, spokesman for the Islamic Party of Iraq announced that his party had withdrawn completely from the interim government, and that they were strongly considering a boycott of the elections.

On November 13, the spokesman for Muqtada Al-Sadr, Ali Smasm, announced that they will also boycott the January polls.

Prior to this announcement, during a phone interview, Ahmed Al-Bideri, spokesman for the office of Muqtada Al-Sadr in Sadr City, Baghdad, had hinted that Al-Sadr’s support for the electoral process was at an end. “We were trying to decide who to support in the elections because we don’t want to separate our power over different issues,” Al-Bideri said at the time. He had added that the Sadrist movement hoped to work toward changing the elections so that they would be fair and transparent.

“The Americans must review their entire Iraq policy and come to wise decisions,” said Dr. Nadhmi. “There is nothing wrong with ideology unless it blinds you from seeing reality.”

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