is no Good in Parts
Rumsfeld claims that three-quarters of an election is better
than none, so next January's turnout in Iraq may exclude the
Sunni triangle. But asks PETER PRESTON, would
President Bush accept the disenfranchisement of a large chunk
there's a tricky, twisty moment when a party goes on too long.
You're tired, you're aching, you really have to go. So you
edge to the door and look vaguely round for the host. Sorry,
it's been wonderful, but it's a way long home and my mother
isn't on top form and I promised...mumble, mumble. But thank
you very, very much for a lovely time.
you scurry for the stairs as the words ring hollow on your
lips. And you sound like Donald Rumsfeld.
Donald! We thought you were in Iraq for as long as it took
to see perfect democracy reign, until Baghdad was a Swiss-style
model of purity for the Middle East? But now you cough and
look around and head for the fire exit.
what is perfection? "We had something like 200 or 300
or 400 people killed in the major cities of America last year
and is that perfectly peaceful? No. What's the difference?
We just didn't see every homicide in every major city in the
United States on television every night."
you and good night. The secretary of defence is talking about
the moment when Iraq seems calm enough to quit. He is also
talking about what kind of an Iraqi election next January
lets the Pentagon leave the party early.
there's a new tale in town, one eddying back and forth across
a chorus of lips. Perhaps it began in Baghdad itself a couple
of weeks ago when ministers started to say openly that not
everywhere in Iraq needed to vote to make January a legitimate
election. After all, in the US or the UK, a 50% turn-out -
or even 40%, come to that - was deemed viable enough to build
an administration on. Why set the Baghdad bar higher?
perhaps the script was basically written further away, in
a back office of Washington DC: for it was also a variation
on the theme that George Bush and Iraq's caretaker prime minister,
Ayad Allawi, chanted on the White House lawn last week. Was
there trouble in Iraq? Not on any national scale, they crooned.
Maybe in no more than two or three provinces out of 18. Which
turned out, on examination, to be the same number of provinces
too prospectively unruly to vote next January if bloody push
comes to violent shove.
look coldly at what's involved. Welcome to the Sunni triangle,
continuing heartland of resistance, rebellion and terrorism.
It stretches, you'll remember, from Baghdad in the east to
Ramadi in the west, and pokes north to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown;
and never, of course, forget Falluja, boiling away in the
middle. These aren't small, insignificant spots. Falluja has
upwards of a quarter of a million population, Ramadi is touching
400,000 - and the Sunni areas of Baghdad run into millions.
how would Blair fare if he announced that the Hampstead triangle
- from the Heath to Luton to Oxford and back - was too wild
to vote next May? How would Bush deal with the loss of his
Stetson square, otherwise Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and
Yet that, in broadly proportionate
terms and with all due seriousness, is what's being suggested
for Iraq. Any election, apparently, is better than none. A
PR voting system based on nationwide party lists apparently
makes it easier to leave Falluja or Ramadi out. Fifteen semi-peaceful
provinces, at least, can do their own thing and confer a certain
legitimacy on the rulers they choose. Apparently.
A car burns on a bridge
near the road leading the Iraqi capital to Baghdad International
Airport, 12 September 2004. US troop set this vehicle on fire
after suspecting that it was carrying explosives. The incident
occurred after a suicide car bomb smashed into a joint US
and Iraqi National Guard convoy
Rumsfeld says that three-quarters
of an election is better than none. But, of course, it's rubbish
- and rubbish made worse by that national voting system.
How many millions of Sunnis
would be denied their chance at the polls and thus their legitimate
stake in the regime that follows Allawi? What use is a block
vote if the blocks are knocked away? Where, when that happens,
lies any hope of democratic acceptance and reconciliation?
There is no legitimate government
waiting down that road. There is only a greater Shia Muslim
hegemony founded on an exclusion that makes the 60% Shia majority
more powerful yet. Why on earth suppose otherwise?
Because the bind is tighter
and more desperate than ever. Because Allawi, hanging on and
bolstering his White House leader, needs something he can
call a mandate. Because the Shias are (rightly) restive. Because
western public opinion has been told to hail Iraqi democracy.
The real debate, as usual,
seems to sit between between the Pentagon and state department.
Colin Powell's outspoken point man, Richard Armitage, tells
a congressional committee that "we're going to have those
elections in all parts of the country" and "open
to all citizens".
Donald Rumsfeld meanwhile
observes that big American cities had hundreds of murders
a year. But does that mean America can't vote on November
2? No way, says Don. Turn out and beat the assault weapon
And there, in the distance,
you can hear the theme swell. George W talking down 9/11.
After all, 47 out 50 states were totally unaffected. George
W hailing the defeat of terrorism - at least in America, if
not Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Madrid and points east.
Here's the solution we've
been hungering for through the years, the ultimate miracle
of half-full not half-empty. Call it the 50% solution, turned
sunny side up. Lovely party. So sorry to go...
This article was first
published in the Guardian Weekly