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Baghdad Burning: Election Results...
Iraqi election results were officially announced nearly two weeks ago, but it was apparent from the day of elections which political parties would come out on top. I’m not even going to bother listing the different types of election fraud witnessed all over Iraq- it’s a tedious subject and one we’ve been discussing for well over a month.
The fact that a Shia, Iran-influenced religious list came out on top is hardly surprising. I’m surprised, however, at Iraqis who seem to be astonished at the outcome. Didn’t we, over the last three years, see this coming? Iranian influenced clerics had a strong hold right from 2003. Their militias were almost instantly incorporated into the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense as soon a move was made to create new Iraqi security forces. Sistani has been promoting them from day one.
Why is it so very surprising that in times of calamity people turn to religion? It happens all over the world. During tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, blockades, wars- people turn to deities… It’s simple- when all else fails, there is always a higher power for most people.
After nearly three years of a failing occupation, I personally believe that many Iraqis voted for religious groups because it was counted as a vote against America and the occupation itself. No matter what American policy makers say to their own public- and no matter how many pictures Rumsfeld and Condi take with our fawning politicians- most Iraqis do not trust Americans. America as a whole is viewed as a devilish country that is, at best, full of self-serving mischief towards lesser countries and, at worst, an implementer of sanctions, and a warmongering invader.
Even Iraqis who believe America is here to help (and they seem to have grown fewer in number these days), believe that it helps not out of love for Iraqis, but out of self-interest and greed.
Shia religious parties, like SCIRI and Da’awa, have decidedly changed their tone in the last year. During 2003, they were friends of America- they owed the US their current power inside of the country. Today, as Iraqis are becoming more impatient with the American presence inside of Iraq, they are claiming that they will be the end of the ‘occupiers’. They openly blame the Americans for the lack of security and general chaos. The message is quite different. In 2003, there was general talk of a secular Iraq; today, that no longer seems to be an option.
In 2003, Jaffari was claiming he didn’t want to see Iraqi women losing their rights, etc. He never mentioned equal rights- but he did throw in a word here and there about how Iraqi women had a right to an education and even a job. I was changing channels a couple of weeks ago and I came across Jaffari speaking to students from Mustansiriya University- one of Iraq’s largest universities, with campuses in several areas in Baghdad. I couldn’t see the students- he might have been speaking with a group of penguins, for all I could tell. The camera was focused on him- his shifty eyes and low, mumbling voice.
On his right sat an Ayatollah with a black turban and black robes. He looked stern and he nodded with satisfaction as Jaffari spoke to the students (or penguins). His speech wasn’t about science, technology or even development- it was a religious sermon about heaven and hell, good and evil.
I noticed two things immediately. The first was that he seemed to be speaking to only male students. There were no females in the audience. He spoke of their female ‘sisters’ in absentia, as if they had absolutely no representation in the gathering. The second thing was that he seemed to be speaking to only Shia because he kept mentioning their ‘Sunni brothers’, as if they too were absent. He sermonized about how the men should take care of the women and how Sunnis weren’t bad at all. I waited to hear him speak about Iraqi unity, and the need to not make religious distinctions- those words never came.
In spite of all this, pro-war Republicans remain inanely hopeful. Ah well- so Ayatollahs won out this election- the next election will be better! But there is a problem…
The problem with religious parties and leaders in a country like Iraq, is that they control a following of fervent believers, not just political supporters. For followers of Da’awa and SCIRI, for example, it’s not about the policy or the promises or the puppet in power. It’s like the pope for devout Catholics- you don’t question the man in the chair because he is there by divine right, almost. You certainly don’t question his policies.