A Constitutional Referendum that Wasn’t

Similar to how the invasion of Iraq was wrapped in bright and shining lies in order to be sold to the American people, the lauded constitutional referendum was fraught with inconsistencies, fraud, and poor preparation.

Did anyone else find it interesting that the results of the vote on Iraq’s constitution passing (which occurred ten days earlier) were released on the same day of the announcement of the 2,000th US soldier having been killed in Iraq?

On October 25, the first news of the day about Iraq across most corporate media outlets in the US was that Iraq was celebrating the approval of a new constitution. Just hours after this news, Mr. Bush made a pre-emptive propaganda move in an attempt to blunt the blow of the incoming news of the 2,000 milestone, by telling a group of military wives at an air force base in Washington “This war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve.”

Then, less than three hours after this speech, the news of the 2,000th US soldier dying was poured across the headlines; conveniently timed in that the Department of Defense usually has several deaths awaiting confirmation for days before they may be announced publicly.

But that’s old news now. With troop levels soon to be over 161,000 in Iraq (remember when it was 138,000?) and the death toll over 2,030 and increasing daily, more milestones loom as a failed political process is pushed forward. We just passed another, in fact; with at least ninety-three troops killed in October, which made it the bloodiest month since January.

Similar to how the invasion of Iraq was wrapped in bright and shining lies in order to be sold to the people of the United States, the recent constitutional referendum vote in Iraq occurred in a similar vein.

“You cannot wage a war without rumors, without media, without propaganda,” said Samir Khader, a senior producer at the Al-Jazeera Satellite Television Network, “Any military planner who plans for a war, if he doesn’t put media/propaganda on top of his agenda, he’s a bad military.”

The vote had many similarities to the farce which took place on January 30—aside from a repeat of the draconian measures to provide security and quite a large dose of propaganda.

Just prior to the so-called constitutional referendum vote in occupied Iraq, one of my close friends in Baghdad wrote me, “I would like to point out that we are three days away from the referendum, yet very large sectors of Iraqi people couldn’t receive part of the five million copies [of the constitution] from the UN, i.e.—they will not know what the constitution contains…what kind of vote is this?”

His confusion makes sense, considering that only five million copies of the so-called constitution were printed and supposedly distributed to 12.5 million registered voters in Iraq. The spokesman for the White House proclaimed that “tens of millions” of copies of the constitution were printed and distributed, then failed to comment on the fact that hours before the vote occurred a clause was added to the constitution stating it could be amended by the incoming government for four months after they take power.

This last-minute attempt to garner Sunni support failed to accomplish much, as Sunni leaders were all too aware of the fact that the possibility of amending the constitution, which would require a two-thirds vote by the Shia/Kurdish dominated parliament, would be virtually impossible.

The inconsistencies hadn’t started there, however, because the constitution was to have been completed by August 1. But despite illegal delays which were not even backed by the parliament in Iraq, the controversial portions of the document like federalism and Sharia Islamic Law were not even worked out prior to the vote. Thus, an incomplete draft of the constitution was put to vote, without a vote of authorization by the Iraqi government.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad even consistently pressured the Iraqi government to accept his own drafts of articles which included words like “oil” and “military bases” in the so-called constitution in the weeks leading up to the vote.

“It is a matter of public record that in the final weeks of the process the newly arrived US ambassador (Zalmay Khalilzad) took an extremely hands-on role,” Justin Alexander, legal affairs officer for the office of constitutional support with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq told me. “Even going so far as to circulate at least one US draft.”

Figures provided by several governorates required Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to order (under heavy Sunni political pressure) “re-examination, comparison and verification because they [voter turnout figures] are relatively high compared with international averages for elections” of this kind; according to a statement made by the IEC.

This occurred rather inconveniently after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s nearly instantaneous belief and statement that the constitution “has probably been passed,” despite what the IEC referred to in findings showing “that figures from most provinces were too high,” referencing voter turnout.

Huge discrepancies were reported in the Nineveh governorate, which includes Mosul, showing that while sources close to the IEC were quoted saying that fifty-five percent of the voters there voted against the constitution, which meant the constitution was accepted due to not having a two-thirds vote against it. However, Abd al-Razaq al-Jiburi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Independent Front said contradictorily, “I have been informed by an employee of the electoral high commission in Mosul that the voting for the constitution has been ‘no.’”

He went on to add that his sources within the IEC said the “no” vote in Nineveh ranged between seventy-five and eighty percent, which would have defeated the constitution as Al-Anbar and Salahedin governorates had already voted it down.

This, on top of widespread accusations of ballot stuffing and missing ballot boxes from predominantly Sunni regions reported by Arab outlets such as Al-Ahram and Al-Jazeera, added a dark cloud of confusion and doubt over the entire referendum process.

Nevertheless, now the stage is set for a vote for a new Iraqi government on December 15, which is sure to deepen the divide which is fracturing Iraq. Between the institutionalization of Sharia Law, federalism and the possibility of an increasingly powerful Kurdistan, the Sunni population in Iraq only becomes more disenfranchised.

The idea of political stability seems more of a pipe dream in Iraq now than it did before the recent vote on the constitution.

Hinting at things to come in December, Sunni leader Saleh Mutlaq told reporters: “Violence is not the only solution, if politics offers solutions so that we can move in that direction. But there is very little hope that we can make any gains in the elections.”

Hussein al-Falluji, another prominent Sunni politician, said the referendum was manipulated by Washington, and added, “We all know that this referendum was fraud conducted by an electoral commission that is not independent. It is controlled by the occupying Americans and it should step down before elections in December.”

This is against the backdrop of the recent news of a survey commissioned by the British military in Iraq. The survey found that eighty-two percent of Iraqis “strongly oppose” the continuing presence of coalition troops and forty-five percent of Iraqis felt that attacks against coalition troops are justified.

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist from Anchorage, Alaska. Jamail has spent eight months reporting from Iraq for outlets such as The Ester Republic, The Nation, The Guardian, and the Sunday Herald in Scotland. Jamail is currently touring parts of the US giving slideshow presentations about his experiences in Iraq.