The Ballots and the bullets

The results of the vote on the Iraqi constitution are in. Overall, 78 per cent of Iraqis voted "yes" and 21 per cent voted "no'' and so the constitution has been approved. he next stage is elections in December which will replace the transitional administration with a four-year parliament and the first permanent government since the 2003 invasion.

Significantly, Sunnis ended a political boycott by voting in their millions in an attempt to kill the document. This was due to a clause in the ratification process which stated that it could be rejected if two-thirds of voters in three of the country's 18 provinces had voted no. In the end, only two provinces rejected it by the required amount. Another Sunni province (Nineveh) rejected it by 55%.

The result itself was marred by reports of vote rigging. Sunni figure Salih Mutlak, for example, complained that the tallying in Ninevah was carried out by Peshmerga militiamen, who, he alleged, tampered with the ballots to ensure the Constitution was passed. Others suggested that many Sunni areas did not have polling stations, obviously in an attempt to stop the constitution being rejected by three provinces, while others have pointed to unlikely results in some Sunni areas, suggesting that the Iraqi government has been a bit too keen in its ballot-box stuffing. Needless to say, the Bush Junta dismissed or ignored any accounts of ballot fraud, showing that they have as much concern with Iraqi democracy as they have for American voters. Perhaps even the Whitehouse realised having Bush waffle on about dodgy elections would be too much for Americans to stomach. So given the last two US Presidential elections, it could be argued that when Bush said that Iraq would have a US-style democracy he did mean it literally!

Needless to say, the Bush Junta did not ignore the fact that the Sunni community took part in the vote and it was spun by the occupiers. "The key here is the Sunnis have voted in large numbers. One way or another, the Iraqis will be in a position to move forward," argued Condoleeza Rice. "You defeat an insurgency politically as well as militarily." Yet the opposite will happen. The Sunnis have been given a clear sign that in the new Iraq their opinions do not matter, that in spite of high participation in the vote they simply demonstrated that they lack any political influence or power.

Of course, the Bush Junta is spinning the referendum in order to show the increasingly disillusioned American public that some progress is being made in Iraq. Over 2000 US troops have died for Bush's imperial adventure. Billions have been wasted in fighting a war of aggression and occupation. The steady increase of dead and wounded soldiers plus the other (almost daily) debacles of the Bush Junta has resulted in a need for short-term good news from Iraq. Hence the forging ahead of the (US-shaped) constitution regardless of the long-term impact. Its own need to bolster support at home has ensured that the insurgency will continue and grow.

Ironically, the best result for the occupiers would have been the rejection of the constitution and a return to the drawing board. Why? For the reasons sketched above. A rejection would have demonstrated to the Sunnis that they have a stake in the political process and can influence it by means of the ballot box. As it stands, this result shows the exact opposite. It shows that Sunnis have no say and that the much vaulted political progress is no alternative to the on-going insurgency. Had the Sunni been able to reject the Constitution, they would have had a powerful argument for political participation and abandonment of violence.

So the notion that participation in the referendum means that Sunnis will turn to the ballot box rather than the bullet is wishful thinking. Their electoral powerlessness was amply demonstrated in the vote and only the stupid would expect, as a consequence, that the insurgency will now lose support. The constitution has further divided the country and overwhelming Sunni rejection of it with no political effect can only result in more alienation and violence.

As it is, a significant minority of Iraq has rejected the founding document of the new regime. Can a regime be stable if one in five of its subjects consider it an imposed system? The answer came soon, with the three huge bombings around Firdaws Square. These are symbolic of the new Iraq. This square, do not forget, was where, in April 2003, US troops stage-managed the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue. Nearly two and a half years later, the insurgents have shown that the US does not control it. The insurgency will continue as long as the US interferes in Iraqi affairs, as it must to make its imperial adventure remotely worthwhile for its ruling elite.

Finally, does the fact that Iraqis have ratified a constitution show that 2,000 Americans and over 100,000 Iraqis have died for naught? Yes, as the US did not invade Iraq to create a democratic constitution. The Bush Junta claimed it was invading Iraq because Saddam posed a unique and urgent threat to the US and lied to and scare-mongered its citizens into believing that nonsense. That elections have taken place under US occupation does not retroactively justify the war nor does it mean that the Iraqi people are free.

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