US ambassador “will remain the critical behind-the-scenes power,”
says New York Times
The Bush administration and the American media are, predictably, hailing
the December 15 election as a giant step towards democracy in Iraq. In reality,
as they well know, Thursday’s balloting only provides a parliamentary
screen—and a very thin one—for continued US occupation and domination.
Whatever the outcome of the voting, real power in the oil-rich country will
remain firmly in the hands of the American military and the chief US representative
in Baghdad, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
The period leading up to the election suggests that rival factions in Iraq
are preparing feverishly for civil war. Nearly all the major parties and coalitions
contesting the election focused their campaigns on religious or ethnic appeals,
and post-election conflicts could produce a communal bloodbath leading to the
breakup of Iraq, or intensified US military operations.
This week another huge torture chamber run by the Badr Organization, the largest
Shi’ite militia, was uncovered, at a Ministry of Interior facility in
Baghdad. More than 600 prisoners were found, many of them showing signs of starvation
or torture. Sunni parties highlighted the discovery, broadcasting video interviews
with prisoners and denouncing the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafaari
for trying to cover up the existence of the prison until after the vote.
The commander of the Badr Organization, Haidi Amery, issued a public threat
Tuesday against former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the longtime CIA
asset who heads a secular party and is favored by the Bush administration to
lead a future coalition regime. Referring to Allawi’s past membership
in the political party of Saddam Hussein, Amery said, “We are warning
now: We will raise our weapons as we did before if the Baathists come to power
In the southern Iraqi city of Nasariya, thousands of Shi’ite demonstrators
rioted in reaction to comments critical of the senior Shi’ite clergy made
by a commentator on the Al Jazeera television network. They attacked and burned
offices of Allawi’s party as well as an office of the Iraqi Communist
Party, which is in an electoral alliance with Allawi. Hundreds of uniformed
policemen marched in similar protests in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf,
brandishing weapons and chanting slogans for the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA),
the ruling bloc of Shi’ite religious parties.
Last week a conference of Shi’ite political leaders in Najaf recommended
that the nine southern provinces where Shi’ites predominate establish
a regional security force. Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of the largest Shi’ite
party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) reiterated
his plan, made possible by the new constitution, to establish an autonomous
region for the nine provinces. This would represent a separate Shi’ite
state in the making, with nearly half Iraq’s population and land area
and more than half its oil.
There were indications of brazen attempts to rig the voting. On Sunday, officials
in Baghdad said they were investigating a 400 percent increase in the number
of registered voters in Kirkuk, the oil-rich northern city that has been a flashpoint
of conflict between Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman groups. Some 81,000 names have
been struck from the voter roles by auditors checking for fraud and duplication.
There were also reports, widely circulated in the media but denied by the government,
that an oil tanker filled with pro-UIA ballots had been detected and stopped
at the Iranian border.
The election is likely to produce a deadlocked parliament that may be unable
to fulfill the role assigned it under the constitution drafted under US auspices
and narrowly ratified in nationwide balloting October 15. The first task of
the new assembly will be to elect a president and two vice presidents, who will
in turn select the prime minister, the day-to-day head of government and the
most powerful state official.
A two-thirds majority is required for the election of the president, making
a prolonged stalemate very possible given that the Shi’ite United Iraqi
Alliance is expected to get something less than half the seats, with the balance
held by the Kurdish coalition, Sunni religious parties, and secular blocs led
by Allawi and Ahmed Chalabi, another longtime US stooge.
The Sunni parties have been induced to participate in the election with the
promise that the new parliament will discuss a series of amendments to the new
constitution, which was overwhelmingly opposed in the Sunni-populated provinces.
But such changes—some directed at the more extreme provisions for decentralization,
others aimed at preventing the imposition of a fundamentalist Islamic religious
code in areas like women’s rights and family law—would themselves
require a two-thirds vote of approval in the legislature, followed by approval
in another nationwide referendum.
Both the prospect of a deadlocked parliament and the reality of continued US
military occupation ensure that whatever regime emerges from the December 15
election will be a puppet of Washington. As New York Times—a fervent editorial
supporter of the election—admitted in its news analysis the day of the
vote, “American officials fully expect that for months after the Iraqi
election on Thursday the American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will
remain the critical behind-the-scenes power in the creation of a factious coalition
to run the country.”
For all the talk of democracy, the Bush administration has no intention of
conceding what the vast majority of the Iraqi people clearly want: the rapid
withdrawal of the US military. All the major parties, with the exception of
the Kurdish alliance, claim to support an end to the occupation of their country.
Even the opinion polls conducted by Western news organizations show that two-thirds
or more of Iraqis want US forces withdrawn as quickly as possible. But the Bush
administration not only refuses to propose a timetable for withdrawal, it has
begun construction of a series of heavily fortified military bases that would
be available to the Pentagon indefinitely.
Ambassador Khalilzad has made little effort to disguise his role as US proconsul
in charge of an only nominally sovereign Iraq. On Tuesday he bluntly contradicted
the accounts of the second Baghdad torture center provided by the Jafaari government,
which sought to minimize the brutality. “It was far worse than slapping
around,” he said, adding, “We are very committed to looking at all
the facilities. It’s unacceptable for this kind of abuse to take place.”
The US embassy has sought to use the torture revelations to undermine Jafaari
and the UIA, considered too close to Iran, and build up the Sunni and secular
The same day Khalilzad issued a public warning to Iran, which has major influence
on SCIRI and other groups in the UIA. “There’s predatory states,
the hegemonic states with aspirations of regional hegemony in the areas, such
as Iran,” he said. “While we would like good relations, as good
a relationship as possible between Iraq and its neighbors, we do not want Iran
to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs.”
This is a staggering piece of hypocrisy, coming from the representative of
the most predatory government in the world, one that aspires to global, not
merely regional, hegemony, and which has 160,000 troops and tens of thousands
of intelligence and security agents presently engaged in much more than “interfering”
in Iraq’s internal affairs.
Khalilzad’s comment was not just a display of arrogance. It underscores
one of the principal purposes of the American occupation of Iraq: this tortured
country is to be used as a launching pad for further acts of US military aggression
in the Middle East. For all the talk of limited withdrawals of US troops in
the course of the coming year, any soldiers pulled out of Iraq are more likely
to end up in Iran or Syria than to come home to their families.
This is the context in which to judge Bush’s latest speech on the Iraq
war, delivered December 14 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He echoed
Khalilzad in making thinly veiled threats to Iran and Syria, while once again
running through the standard litany of White House lies about Iraq. (According
to a compilation by washingtonpost.com, in his four Iraq speeches over the past
two weeks Bush mentioned “democracy” 83 times, “freedom”
68 times, “security” 75 times, and “victory” 42 times).
In a subsequent interview with Fox News, Bush declared that he “absolutely”
would have invaded Iraq even had he known then that Saddam Hussein had no weapons
of mass destruction. This statement underscores that WMD was only a pretext
for an invasion already long planned for other reasons.
What were those other reasons? Fox diplomatically did not ask. But there is
one feature of Iraq which has remained constant through all the lies and manipulations
of the Bush administration, as well as the vicissitudes of invasion, occupation
and rebellion: Iraq remains the possessor of the world’s second-largest
oil reserves, which are now under the control of American imperialism, and destined,
under the US-dictated constitution, to be made available to American oil companies.
Rounding out this degrading spectacle is the Democratic Party, the nominal
opposition to Bush in Congress. Before his Wednesday speech, a group of 17 pro-war
House Democrats assembled in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to receive
an hour-long briefing from Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, General Peter Pace (chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff) and Khalilzad, who, accompanied by top US commander General
George W. Casey, addressed the group by satellite from Baghdad. The Democrats
generally praised the report, saying that it set a new and more realistic tone
for US prospects in Iraq.
Forty-one Senate Democrats signed a letter to Bush this week, urging him to
make 2006 a “year of transition” in Iraq, a phrase which allows
the Democrats to express hope for some withdrawal of American troops, but only
in the event that forces of the Iraqi puppet government are available to replace
them—the same formula advanced by the White House. The letter urged Bush
to “tell the leaders of all groups and political parties in Iraq that
they need to make the compromises necessary to achieve the broad-based and sustainable
political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency in Iraq
within the schedule they set for themselves.”
In other words, like the White House, the Democratic Party seeks a
military victory over the Iraqis who are fighting the US occupation.