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     Volume 4 Issue 33 | February 11, 2005 |

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Mustafa Zaman

Bush is now sitting at the top of the moral high ground. It may seem ironic to the world other than the West, but Bush along with Blair is truly the one who has had the upper hand in the Iraq war. Or so the voting turnout has proved.

At last the pro-Iraq-war lobbyists have found an oasis to step onto. After successfully drawing many Iraqis to the polling booths strewn across the country last week, they are now all set to reinstate the hope of staying around for a longer period of time, purportedly to supervise a 'complete' transition to democracy. The phrase, "Seeing it through", always drove human races, American authorities actually have the habit of putting it in practice with a diehard ambition.

"It is only the beginning", many Western leaders now proclaim. Before election, the withdrawal of troops was in the air, now, even the Iraqi authorities do not want to let go of foreign soldiers. Iraq's interim President Ghazi Yewer says, "It would be nonsense to ask coalition troops to leave now". The sudden resounding success in managing the ballots amidst the tightest security the world has ever seen, there has been a change in the wind. Now it is blowing in favour of staying till things become stable.

The "vacuum of power" and "chaos" that the president sees "in the midst" of all that is going on, is the work of the US and it's allies. This realisation now seems to taking a heavy beating. After all, voting has been successful, so the fact that it cost dearly is best forgotten.

Even in the British Lower House, where there were staunch anti war voices that troubled the British supremo, only few raised the relevant questions. The most pressing of them was the question of "how many Iraqis lost their lives" in order for the country to earn the label of being a democracy.

There are little efforts on the part of the occupying forces to tally the Iraqi casualties. The American body count in the face of the insurgency that still rages on stood at 1,110 before the election. This was the cost of combats, while another 250 died in accidents.

The violence is steadily rising. According to data collected by the Brooking Institution, a think-tank in Washington, the number of attacks on the occupying Americans is now more than four times the rate of a year ago. The IraqBodyCount.com, an anti war but fastidiously American group, as reported in The Economist, provides the number of Iraqi casualties. They claim that between 15,000 and 18,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the American invasion. "The human rights organisations have suggested twice as many, or even more," reveals a special report on Iraq Election in the January 29th issue of The Economist.

The Brooking Institution recorded 32,000 insurgents' death since the fall of Saddam in April 2003. The estimate was based mainly on Pentagon briefings.

Do these figures mean anything to Bush and Blair? Their perceived and well-disseminated 'morale victory' against "terror" overshadows the pre-election mayhems and missteps. Even the issue of torture and gross human rights violation that still continues, now, it seems, being wished to vanish in the air. The camp carnage sparked by "regular security check" and the recent attacks that killed four Americans provides ample proof that all is not well in Iraq. It also proves that even after election or forming of a first elected government, the fight against foreign occupation will continue.

The head of the Iraq's intelligence services claim that there are 40,000 hard-core rebels, with another 160,000-odd Iraqis helping them in their efforts. The number has risen dramatically over the year. It is believed to have been increased several folds and is still swelling.

For the US force that stands at 150,000 out of an allied total of 175,000, there are little options in practicing restraints. A July, 2004 New Yorker ran a story on a young American soldier named Carl Cranstone who, after returning home in one piece, tells the tale of how the Iraqis fell to the cannon fires of his Bradley, an army vehicle. Iraqi soldiers, believing they were concealed by darkness or smoke, would expose themselves to the Bradley's thermal sight and the devastating rapid fire of its five-milimetre cannon, he relates to the reporter.

"We'd put up signs in Arabic saying 'Stop.' We would say, 'Ishta, ishta,' which means go away. But people would approach with flags in their hands and then whip out AK-47s or rocket-propelled grenades," says Carl to the reporter. The group that he headed adopted a "play-it-safe policy": if a driver ignored the signs and the warnings and came within thirty metres of a roadblock, the Americans opened fire. This is the strategy that kept Carl alive. "We killed a lot of people," was his unpretentious declaration.

Carl belonged to one of the Sledgehammers, the groups that led the American soldiers in Iraq. He came back from war last July. The policy that many refer to as "shoot first ask questions later" was adopted by most units, as was by the one headed by Carl. And that has only worsened the situation multiplying the miseries of the Iraqis. Accordiing to the report in The Economist, "a heap of anecdotal evidence suggests that most Iraqis, barring the Kurds, place the overwhelming burden of blame for their misfortunes on the Americans".

It is unfortunate that the White House and the Pentagon as well as many dignitaries at the British Parliament are yet to wake up to this reality. Perhaps they bank on the evidence that pours in to boost their morale -- notes and accounts that try and cancel out the presence of the other side of the coin.

Lt Bryan Suits, a US soldier sent a mail on the Election Day to the CNN. It brings to the surface the mindset that denies not only all wrongdoings but also their role in having anything to do with the jeopardy that Iraqis have gone through and are still in. "They (Iraqis) thanked us profusely and joined in an impromptu dance called 'dabka'. One of the men said, 'God sent you to give us freedom' My Iraqi translator, who's a practised (sic) cynic, became silent and looked away. The man put his hand on my American flag patch and then kissed his hands," writes Bryan. This is the brand of American patriotism that led their country's troops to a foreign land, and this is the fervour that Bush and Blair are relying on. The soldier turns a blind eye to the translator as well many other who shares his emotion. On top of all this, if putting Iraq in democratic course means something similar to the democratisation across the nations that were formerly called the Soviet Union, then Iraqis still have causes to worry.

As for Sunday's election, the turn out, in the face of the threat from the Sunni insurgency, was huge. It was estimated to be almost 62 percent.

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission even failed to provide ballot papers for all. "Tens of thousands were denied a vote," testifies President Yawer. According to his account even in Mosul, Iraq's third main Sunni city, they ran out of ballots twice. The same thing happened in Basra, Baghdad and Najaf.

Condoleezza Rice termed the election as a "huge step forward". And before they even took the stride there was a tightening of the noose. Security measures were heightened. And it worked. Violence on Election Day was kept at a relative minimum.

A lot was invested in the election. So, how is it that the ballots were out-numbered by the voting enthusiasts? Is it that the authorities planned it merely as a face saver, or are there any more home truths lurking behind this otherwise well-planned exercise in franchise?

Whatever it is, a longer stay for the Americans was made possible as a great fault-line runs across the Sunni and Shiite communities. The magical turnout too seemed to have been possible as the Shiite majority felt that the time had come to lay claim to what rightfully belongs to them, namely political power. This is one area they were denied access to for the last 60 years.

Election held under foreign occupation, or to use the phrase of The Economist, "at gunpoint" may not have gone well with the world communities had the turnout been nominal. The Shiites, the majority population, have made a difference. While most Sunni clerics asked the Iraqis to stay clear of the ballot boxes, the Shiites along with the Kurds turn the event into an occasion for Bush and Blair to feel resuscitated.

Even the Sunni community was not entirely opposed to the idea of going into polls before the withdrawal of troops. The divide and distrust that grew between the two factions -- one that is one fifth of the country and the other three fifth during Saddam's misrule, is one thing that went in favour of the 'democracy' aspirants. As a Sunni ruler among the majority of Shiites, Saddam, the tyrant, kept all oppositions at bay. The elections provided a chance to come back and secure a role in the political future of Iraq.

The surge of voting that resulted in the surge of enthusiasm in the world community puts the insurgency in an awkward position. Trapped in between the two extremes -- the occupying force and the resistance -- election for the Iraqis was like an escape route. They have voted for the 275-member assembly, where 84 parties and 27 independent candidates were listed to choose from, and the results put the Shiite in an overwhelming majority. They are now all set to ride power and rope in the Sunnis. The question remains, will they be able to take charge of things with the US watching over their shoulders.

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