June 20, 2004

B.D.'s Baghdad Correspondent Writes In

What's it like 10 days before the handover over in Iraq?

Here's one glimpse into the pre-handover craziness from someone who has been in Baghdad for several months.

There is an interesting part where my (somewhat cantekerous) correspondent is exasperatingly attempting to describe the electoral process to a Fallujan who is less keen on the ballot-box.

Not always an easy co-habitation this whole democracy-building thang.

Exasperated American meets Fanonian Fallujan.

Earlier this week, a car bomb on Tahrir Square in Baghdad blew two GE contractors to bits and killed or hurt a lot of other people. The post-carnage crowd was angry, blaming Americans, or Jews, or both, for the vicious act that clearly had nothing to do with either party. The one driver in our crew whom I’ve become most fond of had been sprung loose for a few days, largely because a few of his neighbors—working class Iraqis who laid cement—were recently slaughtered by terrorists in retaliation for “working for Americans,” i.e., trying to fix broken buildings. He needed a few days to sort his head out and soothe his worried family’s nerves, so he was cruising the downtown looking for car parts when the blast went off. He ran into the crowd, fast becoming a mob, and, with what few dinars he had in his pocket, purchased the non-obliterated personal effects of one of the contractors from a looter so they wouldn’t be desecrated in the melee that ensued. These have been conveyed to the CPA who, in turn I trust passed them back to the bereaved families at home. Since those electrical power workers were killed earlier this week, the electricity supply has gotten worse, and the power goes out for a few minutes several times an hour now. I wonder if there is a correlation.
Today, we hit Fallujah with an aerial bombardment aimed at a “safe-house” where members of Al Qaeda operative Zakawri’s network were said to be making bombs. The strike resulted in a series of secondary explosions, which suggests we were dead-on right. I say “we” advisably, and well out of context, literally, anyhow. A couple days ago I was cornered at a conference by a man from Fallujah.... He wanted to talk about the resistance, and it soon became apparent he was one of them, if not simply a wildly-sympathetic idiot. “You will come to Fallujah and negotiate between us and the Coalition Forces,” he said, as if he were speaking prophesy. I tried to set him straight on what I did here, and he looked both confused and angry, re-phrasing his thesis as best I could tell, in elementary Arabic. “Resistance is power, and without us the new government will be nothing,” he said, as if he were talking to someone who mattered. Realizing he’d skipped the first few lectures, I tried to explain what elections were all about. “But resistance is power,” he countered, all the more irritated for his efforts. Later that day, the translator who had facilitated this exchange approached me in state of obvious concern. Do you remember that man’s face, he asked? Please do, he continued—try hard—because if you don’t see me on Monday, he is the reason why.
With eleven (or in a few minutes, ten) days left to go before hand-over, people are wondering whether this will all work. Would I stake my sacred honor on the proposition that it will? With the right support, yes, it will work out. One way or the other.
Nearly 90% of Iraqis say they will vote at the end of this year or early next, a soon-to-be released poll we conducted over the last several weeks indicates. First elections usually do have a big turnout. Projected figures, which may well be discounted by ten or so points, still predict that participation in the December/January election for a Transitional National Assembly will double average turnout in the United States (in a non-presidential year). Despite the death threats voters will receive, I am confident a substantial number will all the same brave next winter’s poll. If, that is, the men with guns are resolute in their will to allow the election to happen and provide security for the millions who take the chance. Even without the guns, I think these people will vote. We simply have a moral obligation to ensure they get home safely afterwards.
Less disconcerting than my Fallujah interlocutor this week was a young man from Sadr City after I conducted a role-playing exercise with 57 political parties, movements and clerical associations on coalition-building. The game had been predicated on that day’s news that renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would dissemble his militia and form a political party to take part in said elections. The loose rules required everyone else to react accordingly and, as the proverb goes, get their act together (they did, ultimately coalescing into three distinct electoral blocs). When the fun was over, this young fellow took me aside, explaining that he was a representative of al-Sadr, that the Saeed was most serious about his electoral intentions, wanted peace with CF, and would assure me safe passage to and from Najaf for a meeting. I told him I’d take this under advisement and thanked him for his candor. For each of the subsequent three days, this young man returned to the lectures and games and would make a point of looking meaningfully in my direction. I can only assume he is serious.
In a Washington Post piece today, a former CPA advisor argues against party-slate elections in favor of single-mandate ones, apparently having missed the point about the mixed system that was proposed by the United Nations (though yet to be clarified to the ordinary Iraqis who don’t read The Post, or would understandably be ill-equipped to counter its errors, too technically construed to be worth correcting). The simple fact is this: people who did not have a choice will soon get one. It is Allah’s will that they will have at their disposal sufficient means to make it. And at this point, now ten days out, one hopes the means justify the end.
Posted by Gregory at June 20, 2004 12:12 AM
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