January 29, 2005

Iraqi Elections Special

Some assorted quotes from Iraqis on the eve of elections:

I voted under Saddam--it was bogus and now I am ready for a real election...Everyone in the neighborhood is going to vote."
Mohsin Abdul Ruda, a 50-year-old Shi'a shopkeeper in Sadr City.

"Inshalla,...we will go to the poll center...My mother, she's an 80-year-old woman, but she will go vote."
Jouad Latif, a shopkeeper in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad.

God willing, I will not be voting...Our religious leaders have not told us to vote."
Ziad Qadam, an unemployed 27-year-old Shi'a, from Sadr City

All these quotes come from a couple Dexter Filkins dispatches from Iraq. Note that the NYT's lead story through the night (on-line) was the gloomier of Filkins' pieces (featuring the quote from the non-voting, Sadr supporter) as compared to Filkins' later article which is now the lead and which features the two rosier quotes. Let's briefly check out this snippet from Filkins' gloomy piece:

Less than 48 hours before nationwide elections here, Nasir al-Saedy, one of the city's most popular Shiite clerics, stood before a crowd of 20,000 Iraqis and uttered not a single word about the vote.

Sheik Saedy spoke of faith, humility and the power of God. But about Sunday's elections, the first here in more than 30 years, nothing.

For the throngs of Iraqis who had come to Al Mohsen Mosque to listen, the sheik's silence came through loud and clear.

And it foreshadowed a less than overwhelming voter turnout in many parts of Iraq. [emphasis added, and note the encroachments of Laphamization]

Compare this with the more, er, nuanced (especially the last bit about Sadr's pamphleteers...) reporting of the FT:

At noon prayers in the Buratha mosque, a gathering-place for mainstream Shia parties, preacher and candidate Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer issued a rousing call to the faithful to go to the polls in spite of the risks.

"We will embalm ourselves for burial and take our coffins with us to the polling stations," Mr Sagheer proclaimed to the crowd.

Across the city, a representative of the radical Shia prelate Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement has been divided over whether to take part, gave a long sermon to the thousands gathered in the street, declaring that any government elected on Sunday would not be legitimate.

"Do not give your support to that which is only partly just . . . Be patient and wait for the reign of the Prophet's Family," said the preacher, appealing to the Sadrists' messianic vision. A gathering of local Sadrists standing in the elections later handed out campaign leaflets, insisting the sermon should not be taken to mean that loyal Shia should refrain from voting.

Look, the point here isn't another blogospheric beat-up routine of the big, bad NYT meanies of the MSM. Filkins' reporting feels a bit schizoid because, well, no one knows really, how tomorrow is going to go (though I think the attempt to represent that Shi'a turnout will be significantly lower than expected is inaccurate and a bit disingenuous). But let's put all this parsing of the media aside and look at the bigger picture. Andrew Sullivan asks:

How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud. But it makes sense to have some guidelines before Sunday so we don't just fit what happens to our pre-existing hopes or rationalizations.

I think Andrew had started with 1,000 dead, which he revised down to 500. Then, today, he updates: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?" Truth be told, I don't really think we should be handicapping, say, how many innocents will be slaughtered tomorrow like some kind of sports game. But, that said, let me hazard a few voter turnout predictions of my own on the cusp of this historic event--which are a little more optimistic than Andrew's (keeping in mind that the Administration would probably prefer that its allies in the commentariat lowball their turnout estimates so as help define success down--here, I'm just giving you my best quasi-educated guess--so, any lefties out there, this isn't some spin exercise).

1) Shia and Kurdish turnout will be well north of 50% (perhaps as high as 60%-65%...and many Sadr supporters will vote too).

2) Sunni turnout will likely push 30% (fingers crossed!)

As for Andrew's speculations re: casualty counts--I, of course, don't know how many people are going to die tomorrow at the hands of anti-democratic fanatics (I don't think Iraqi nationalists angered at the American occupation are the ones intent on blowing up polling stations and their own countrymen--those are only the radical jihadists and Baathist restorationists). But what I do know, thanks to an on the ground source close to the elections (who sent me some polling data today), is that 45% of persons polled believe the elections will help to bring positive gradual change, while just over 30% expect a dramatic improvement as a result of the elections tomorrow. So, and unlike the people at the Nation and blase "wankers" like this (doubtless, and ever so shallowly and short-sightedly, rooting for a bad day tomorrow just because it's bad for Chimpie-in-Chief), it appears a good 75% of Iraqis appear to think the elections are going to start getting them on the right track (with a sizable chunk expecting an immediate dramatic improvement). Which leads me to another point, also made by Steve Hadley in a kind of coming-out as National Security Advisor in today's WaPo--the elections really represent just the beginning of real, tangible moves forward on the path to democratization and viable sovereignty:

The critics also seem to forget that the assembly elected tomorrow will be a transitional body--only the most recent step on the road to Iraqi democracy. Iraq will move from the appointed government that it has today to an elected one. This assembly will select a government and draft a permanent constitution, which will be ratified by a popular referendum and under which a new round of elections will be held in December. Eligible Iraqis who choose not to vote tomorrow will be able to participate in that process and vote later in the year.

Another issue to keep in mind tomorrow? How many Sunnis, if the security environment were better, would have braved the polls? On this, note that the aforementioned polling data sent on to B.D. indicates that when Sunnis were asked how likely it is that they will vote, they responded thusly:

21.50% Very Likely
28.20% Somewhat Likely
15.10% Somewhat Unlikely
28.50% Very Unlikely

Now, if you strongly believed the entire elections process was rigged and illegitimate, you'd doubtless be part of the 28.50% who say they are very unlikely to vote. But think of the 28.20% that say they are somewhat likely. Why only "somewhat"? The lack of security is doubtless the biggest reason--not that they think the whole process is corrupt and illegitimate. No, this isn't a defense of the Administration. Of course it would be better if Anbar Province, say, had been secured via application of the requisite manpower. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want to vote--as Hadley points out too. And, that the U.S. is engaged in a struggle to help them exercise that right--one they mostly cherish and are hankering for. Put differently, we are not in Iraq to rape, to plunder, to conquer--but to get a constitution and viable government in place. No, I'm no naif. I know that our presence there involves extending our sphere of influence to a region critical to our national interest. But, say, if Iraqis don't want to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, or want no permanent U.S. military bases there--we will respect their will. This is to say, we are now fighting, in the main, for the Iraqis to have a right to assert a national will and so as to support them on their journey towards sustainable political governance structures. What, really, is so horrible about that? No, we should be proud of our struggle there, particularly given that we unseated a leading genocidaire of the late 20th Century to boot. God speed tomorrow, I say! Or, as they say, Inshallah turnout will be relatively high (near or above 60% for non-Sunnis; pushing 30% for Sunnis) and the fascistic, vicious carnage relatively low. Here's hoping.

Posted by Gregory at January 29, 2005 06:52 PM | TrackBack (30)

Excellent quotes for getting a feel for how the Iraqis are feeling about this election. I do anticipate that there will be gradual improvement in Iraq after the elections. As far as what will consitute success, let's keep in mind how difficult it is for any country to make a transition into democracy and how long it takes for whatever democratic ideals were had at the beginning to be fully realized.

Even in the U.S., as an example, it took quite a while after a democratic form of government was established before slavery was abolished. No one in their right mind would consider the democratic ideals to have been realized while the institution of slavery was in practice. (Just food for thought.)

Posted by: PajamaHadin at January 29, 2005 11:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know, people trying to measure success seem to have no concept of what is being dealt with. This is not AT ALL like an election in, say, the U.S., which has been voting for 200 years or so. Perhaps there is some analogy to blacks voting for the first time in the South, under death threats by the KKK. What should have counted as a "success" then?

To me, the story that proved that the Afghan elections were a "success" was the story of women in a village who were threatened with death if they voted. The morning of the election they went through the rituals necessary if they were to die that day, and left to vote. That's a success.

What will constitute a success in Iraq? Quantitative information won't do the trick, unless they show that the sprit of the people is seeking freedom and democracy. But, as in Afghanistan, other evidence that the people seek those things can be highly persuasive. Whatever tells us what the Iraqis want will govern what counts as success; and if the evidence says they want democracy, then that is enough.

Posted by: CTJohn at January 29, 2005 11:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The success of elections in Iraq will not be measured in numbers. The success will be measured by the enthusiasm of the Iraqi people to do it again.
A modern democracy, at its core, is simply free speech and free, fair, and regular elections. As long as the Iraqi people can openly debate their future, and are given the periodic opportunity to choose its leaders, they will find their way.

Posted by: JP Sobel at January 29, 2005 11:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Quoting a reader over at Simon's, he had heard this said -

James Taranto on (IIRC) Thursday's best of the web had an interesting point: No one in the MSM deemed the south african elections a travesty because Afrikaaners didnt show up to vote. Speaks volumes.

Boy what a terrific point.

Posted by: notthisgirl at January 30, 2005 12:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As to what level of voting counts as a success, I'm put in mind of the old saying, "The remarkable thing
about a singing pig is not that the pig sings well, but that it sings at all."

When viewed from even five years ago, Iraq having a free choice election is the remarkable thing.

Posted by: roy in nipomo at January 30, 2005 01:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Iraq election is a watershed day in world history, in which the forces of pluralism and constitutional government are unleashed in the heart of Arab and Muslim tyranny and theocracy. . . that being said, did anyone think about vote-by-mail? . . . Shaking Spears

Posted by: Spear Shaker at January 30, 2005 02:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If things go relatively well, the spin and desperate attempts to find bad news will merely increase. When things went astonishingly well here in Afghanistan, the media simply muttered a bit and retired from the field. Now a great wave of media silence engulfs this land (what Captain Ed described as "Why Afghanistan Fell off the Map"). Iraq cannot be ignored - too much has been invested in it by the MSM. It will be painted either as an utter failure at worst, or mixed/not decisive at best.

Posted by: Major John at January 30, 2005 02:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's see, Andrew Sullivan says the elections will be 'successful' if many millions vote, but 'unsuccessful' if 500 are murdered. So at the margin, a dozen or hundred terrorists that can kill 500 count as much as the millions who vote.

I know that Andrew would say that there must be pressure to provide security, but I think he's pushing the fulcrum of asymetrical warfare rather far in the wrong direction.

Posted by: ArtD0dger at January 30, 2005 02:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let us never forget this war represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about an oil war masquerading as an endless crusade against "terrorism." Pax Americana of the future brings forth the predatory imperialist aims outlined by the crypto-fascist Project for a New American Century.

The pro-Sharon neoconservative cabal and a minority of warmongers and apologists represent the repudiation of international law in order to bring about an act of international violence.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the apparent demise of "anti-Americanism" as a respectable means of stifling recognition of American imperialism brings about a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable scale. It appears that the unstated purpose of this war belies justifications given by the world's leading apologists for the final subjugation of the Middle East, beginning with the $90bn invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: Educated Professor at January 30, 2005 04:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Between the constant Instapundit links and the glowing newspaper blurbs up there on the main page, I have to say I've been scratching my head whenever I visit this site. What am I missing? I find myself mumbling. Can it really be that all these smart folks don't notice how awful the writing is? Or do they just politely look past the bad prose so they can say something nice?

I mean, the content is certainly decent enough. The author is obviously smart, well informed and of strong moral character. It's just that I can barely wade through the actual writing, so clogged is it with labyrinthine sentences, dizzying clauses-piled-on-clauses, and enough momentum-crushing parentheticals to induce reader whiplash.

To that end, I have created an aid that might help the cause, producing prose that's crisp, precise and reader-friendly. With careful study, perhaps the author can take a lesson from the following, and turn this site into one of the Web's best.

And so I present ...

Belgravia Dispatch With a Frikkin Editor
Installment 1
"Iraqi Elections Special":

Some assorted quotes from Iraqis on the eve of elections:


These quotes come from a pair of Dexter Filkins dispatches for the New York Times. The first two are from Filkins' current lead story, which is rosier than last night's piece featuring the Sadr nonvoter. A snippet from the earlier, gloomy story:


Compare this to the more, er, nuanced reporting of the Financial Times:

(FT EXCERPT, with pamphleteer sentence bolded)

Look, this isn't intended as another blogospheric beating of the big, bad meanies at the NYT. While it's inaccurate and disingenuous to predict lower Shi'a turnout, the real reason that Filkins' reporting feels a bit schizoid is that, well, no one knows how tomorrow will go. But let's put aside media parsing and look at the bigger picture. On Jan. 23, Andrew Sullivan asked:


Andrew, who had once predicted 1,000 murdered, updates even further today: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?"

Truth be told, I really don't think we should be handicapping the number of innocents slaughtered as it were some kind of sports event. That said, let me hazard a few voter turnout predictions of my own on the cusp of this historic event. Mine are a little more optimistic than Andrew's, but I'm just giving you my best quasi-educated guess. For the lefties out there: Keep in mind that the administration would probably prefer its commentariat allies to offer low turnout estimates and help define success down, so this isn't some spin exercise.

1) Shia and Kurdish turnout will be well north of 50% -- perhaps as high as 65%. And many Sadr supporters will vote too.

2) Sunni turnout will likely push 30% (fingers crossed!).

As for Andrew's speculation on casualty counts: I don't know how many people may die tomorrow at the hands of such anti-democracy fanatics as the radical jihadists and Baathist restorationists. (The Iraqi nationalists angry with American occupation aren't the ones intent on blowing up fellow countrymen at the polls.)

What I do know, thanks to an on-the-ground election insider who sent me polling data today, is that 45% of Iraqis surveyed think the elections will bring positive gradual change, and more than 30% expect dramatic improvements. As the short-sighted, shallow wankers at the Nation and elsewhere undoubtedly root for a bad outcome tomorrow to hurt the Chimpie-in-Chief, it seems that 75% of actual Iraqis are confident the elections will bring something good, with many expecting immediate, dramatic results. Which leads to another point: The elections are just the first of real,tangible steps on the path to democratization and viable sovereignty. In his unofficial debut as national security advisor, Steve Hadley emphasizes this notion in today's Washington Post:


There's another question to keep in mind tomorrow: With a better security environment, how many Sunnis would be braving the polls? The polling data I received today breaks down Sunni voting intentions:

Very Likely: 21.5%
Somewhat Likely: 28.2%
Somewhat Unlikely: 15.1%
Very Unlikely: 28.5%

Now, if you strongly believed the entire election process were rigged and illegitimate, you'd doubtless be among the 28.5% who say they're very unlikely to vote. But think of the 28.2% who say they are somewhat likely. Why only "somewhat"? The biggest reason is surely a lack of security, not some perception that the process is corrupt. This isn't a defense of the administration. Of course it would be better, for instance, if adequate manpower had secured Anbar Province.

But the point is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want to vote, and that the United States is engaged in a struggle to help them do just that -- to exercise a cherished right for which they are clamoring. We are not in Iraq to rape, to plunder, to conquer, but to help establish a constitution and viable government.

No, I'm not naive. I know that our presence in Iraq influences a region that is crucial to our national interest. But if Iraqis resist, say, diplomatic ties with Israel or permanent U.S. military bases, we will respect their will. In other words, we are fighting so that Iraqis may have the right to assert a national will and are supported on their journey to sustainable governance.

Is there anything horrible about that? We should be proud of our efforts in Iraq, which on top of all else have helped unseat one of the late-20th Century's leading genocidaires. Godspeed tomorrow, I say!

End of Installment 1

Posted by: Treban at January 30, 2005 05:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Educated Professor,

You are a Prime Example of being so stupid that you cannot even find your rear end with both hands.

No intelligent person would even begin to write or think as you do. Do us all a favor and go shoot yourself!

Posted by: leaddog2 at January 30, 2005 10:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fine post, and I think your writing is fine.

Gov't by democracy, or gov't by death squads -- the Sunni Arab "insurgents" want gov't by death squad, as they proved in Fallujah, after April 2004.

One idea of yours that I disagree with: "Of course it would be better if Anbar Province, say, had been secured via application of the requisite manpower."

Only if you can show me an example of a "similar" Islamic Arab country going through better democracy building are you justified in using "of course". There is no historical evidence for it.

In Vietnam, where the US DID have massive forces, democracy was NOT achieved. Again, it was likely other strategic, tactical, and especially political failures, but it might well be the idea that MORE US power leads to greater S. Vietnamese enpowerment -- rather than more apathetic support and corrupt dealings.

The US had sufficient Liberation forces -- not Occupation and domination forces. It is mostly Iraqi people who are guilty of the violence, and accepting of the violence -- and who will have to stop enabling the violence.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 31, 2005 08:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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