As the date for the Iraqi elections approaches, violence and terror are on the increase. The poll on January 30 will make or break Iraq. I say this with deep anxiety. I shall explain why.
Iraqis currently have only two choices, no more. I shall briefly outline the two choices and explain why, in reality, only one of these choices gives any hope for progress, democracy and rule of law.
The first choice is to embrace the UN-sanctioned political process and use the election, no matter how flawed and limited it is, as a means of allowing the people of Iraq to exercise direct power through the electoral system, based on a form of proportional representation.
This is the first time that Iraqis have been given the right to vote on their representatives since the UN legitimised the occupation nearly two years ago in security council resolution 1483.
Iraqis will be given the right to choose with relative freedom, against a backdrop of limited freedom, a 275-member-strong national assembly, which will become the transitional legislative body that will govern Iraq for a short period of no more than one year.
It will have one overriding responsibility – to draft a permanent secular constitution to be adopted by Iraqis through an open referendum by no later than October this year, as sanctioned by UN resolution 1546.
The consitution, if endorsed, would lead to a general election and certainly end the occupation, regain full sovereignty and take Iraq on the road to a representative parliamentary democracy that will, hopefully, bring stability, peace and prosperity.
It will ensure a united and federal Iraq, guarantee religious freedom, advance public service and cement the virtues of citizenship based on respect for the human rights of Iraq’s different nationalities and religions.
Elections certainly offer the best hope of a secure Iraq and will legitimise the current UN-sanctioned political process, which is aimed at producing a national sovereign transitional assembly and a government mandated by the people.
This view rests its legitimacy on international law – UN resolutions 1483, 1511 and 1546 – and the engagement of the majority of Iraqis and their key political parties across Iraq.
Surely Iraqis, after all their struggles and sacrifices, have won the right to hold elections.
The election must be allowed to go ahead. Iraq’s key political forces, the UN and the international community want the election to go ahead and succeed and, above all, a majority of Iraqis want to see the election succeed.
The world community must recognise this and help Iraqis to make this happen by ensuring that extremists are prevented from allowing the country to slide into social strife and, possibly, civil war – for civil war is what they are working to achieve.
Democracy is the only way to silence the extremists, terrorists and Saddam loyalists. It is the only way to hold Iraq together and give hope to millions of Iraqis who yearn for decent jobs, peace and prosperity.
The majority of Iraqis opposed the war and occupation, but, nevertheless, are jubilant at witnessing the end of Saddam’s nightmare.
Iraqis have had enough of absolute truth and a political ideology which has brought them nothing but genocidal internal wars and external wars of aggression, bringing with them destruction, mass graves, hardship and sanctions.
They wish to embrace new politics of pluralism, human rights and social justice with a strong sense of community within a unified and federal Iraq.
But Iraqis once more have to brace themselves for a tough week amid the chaos of the suicide bombers and the inability of both Iraq’s interim government and the occupation authority to provide adequate security for people to carry on with their daily routines.
Iraqis have no choice but to go to voting stations and silence the anti-democratic forces. This is not a desperate call, but a realistic stand.
Ultra-fundamentalist leader al-Zarqawi said recently: “We have declared war on those who support the principles of democracy.”
Democracy is not given freely, but won, and to achieve it we shall walk, with heads held high, looking straight into the eyes of the enemies of democracy.
The second choice facing Iraqis is to boycott the election and embrace outright armed struggle to end the military occupation of Iraq.
According to those pressing for this view, the election is a ploy that will legitimise the US invasion and occupation and further entrench the imperialists’ strategy in Iraq and the wider Middle East.
It will not produce a legitimate democratic government, it is argued, but will result in a puppet regime that will enable the US to build permanent military bases across Iraq.
But this argument ignores the fact that the forces pushing for violent engagement are composed of extreme reactionary fanatics.
They are mainly ultra-fundamentalist in nature, such as al-Zarqawi, who makes no distinction between innocent civilians, both Iraqis and foreign workers, and foreign armies. Such fundamentalist groups seek to establish a Taliban-style regime.
Other groups are composed of Saddam loyalists. These represent an extreme form of nationalism with a dark and violent history drenched in the blood of thousands of Iraqi democrats – communists, trade unionists, progressives and women activists.
Saddam loyalists now pretend to be some sort of national liberation movement. Their false claims have been given credence by some ultra-left sectarian apologists, both in the West and across the globe.
In reality, this extreme nationalism is the same force that willingly served the imperialists’ agenda and fought on their behalf in Iraq and elsewhere in the region during the second half of the 20th century.
These forces are not fighting for the sake of Iraqi integrity and sovereignty, but to secure their return to ultimate political power.
They are ready to sell Iraq again to further this end and resume the dark days of dictatorship and brutality.
Given the vivid history of this monstrous ideology, it is hard to stomach the open support provided to such forces by armchair revolutionaries in the West masquerading as anti-imperialists, who display their ethnocentric ignorance by championing a false battle fought with somebody else’s blood.
This is a dangerous strand of thought, clad neatly in a real cultural imperialist coat – “listen to us, we know better.” And if it just so happens that you dare to question or disagree with their mode of thinking, then ready-made labels are immediately available to be used against you – labels such “quisling,” “collaborator” and many more.
This extreme argument rests its logic on the basis that the forthcoming election will be divisive, that it could lead to civil war and that it is nothing but an imperialist plot to legitimise the authority of the imperialists’ puppet regime in Baghdad so as to plunder Iraq’s natural wealth.
Such a view has neither a popular base nor international endorsement.
However, it draws support from extreme nationalism – Saddam loyalists and Islamist fanatics and disenfranchised hard-left fanatics so detached from reality that they can only survive on empty slogans.
They are opposing the election and are seeking to embrace “armed struggle,” proclaiming the notion of national liberation against the occupation and against those who they see as collaborationists, though they conveniently wish to forget that they are the cause of the occupation and bloodshed.
How strange it is that such erstwhile “liberators” failed to defend Iraq against the invasion and ran away in April 2003 from the very same forces that they now claim to oppose.
“Collaborationist” is a term that gives them fake legitimacy to massacre many innocent Iraqis civilians in exactly the same way that they used to kill when in power.
By definition, it implies that the majority of Iraqis are the legitimate target of this resistance. Nothing has changed.
This “resistance” is no French Maquis, nor is it like the Vietnamese national liberation movement. It is composed mainly of shadowy forces operating in the dark has no support from the people of Iraq and is feared and despised by Iraqis.
Everybody knows what kind of regime al-Zarqawi and Saddam loyalists are seeking to create in Iraq. Neither has an open social and political programme, but both would be dictatorships – the former of the fundamentalist variety, the other secular.
None of these forces can offer any hope to Iraqis. They should not be allowed to gain ground. Iraqis deserve better than this – the election must go ahead.
This orginally appeared in the Morning Star on 27th January and is published with the author’s permission