Rocket the Vote: Election Weapons
by Naomi Klein
P. Diddy announced on the weekend that his Vote or Die campaign
will live on. The hip-hop moguls voter-registration drive during the US
presidential elections was, he said, merely phase one, step one for us
to get people engaged.
Fantastic. I have a suggestion for phase two: P. Diddy, Ben Affleck, Leonardo
DiCaprio and the rest of the self-described Coalition of the Willing
should take their chartered jet and fly to Fallujah, where their efforts are
desperately needed. But first they are going to need to flip the slogan from
Vote or Die! to Die, Then Vote!
Because that is what is happening there. Escape routes have been sealed off,
homes are being demolished, and an emergency health clinic has been razed
all in the name of preparing the city for January elections. In a letter to
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, US-appointed Iraqi Prime Minister
Iyad Allawi explained that the all-out attack was required to safeguard
lives, elections and democracy in Iraq.
With all the millions spent on democracy-building and civil
society in Iraq, it has come to this: if you can survive attack by the
worlds only superpower, you get to cast a ballot. Fallujans are going
to vote, goddammit, even if they all have to die first.
And make no mistake: they are Fallujans under the gun. The enemy has
got a face. Hes called Satan. He lives in Fallujah, Marine Lt. Col.
Gareth Brandl told the BBC. Well, at least he admitted that some of the fighters
actually live in Fallujah, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, who would have us believe
that they are all from Syria and Jordan. And since US army vehicles are blaring
recordings forbidding all men between the ages of 15 and 50 from leaving the
city, it would suggest that there are at least a few Iraqis among what CNN now
obediently describes as the anti-Iraqi forces.
Elections in Iraq were never going to be peaceful, but they did not need to
be an all-out war on voters either. Mr. Allawis Rocket the Vote campaign
is the direct result of a disastrous decision made exactly one year ago. On
Nov. 11, 2003, Paul Bremer, then chief US envoy to Iraq, flew to Washington
to meet with George W. Bush. The two men were concerned that if they kept their
promise to hold elections in Iraq within the coming months, the country would
fall into the hands of insufficiently pro-American forces.
That would defeat the purpose of the invasion, and it would threaten Mr. Bushs
election chances. At that meeting, a revised plan was hatched: elections would
be delayed for more than a year and in the meantime, Iraqs first sovereign
government would be hand-picked by Washington. The plan would allow Mr. Bush
to claim progress on the campaign trail, while keeping Iraq safely under US
In the U.S., Mr. Bushs claim that freedom is on the march
served its purpose, but in Iraq, the plan led directly to the carnage we see
today. George Bush likes to paint the forces opposed to the US presence in Iraq
as enemies of democracy. In fact, much of the uprising can be traced directly
to decisions made in Washington to stifle, repress, delay, manipulate and otherwise
thwart the democratic aspirations of the Iraqi people.
Yes, democracy has genuine opponents in Iraq, but before George Bush and Paul
Bremer decided to break their central promise to hand over power to an elected
Iraqi government, these forces were isolated and contained. That changed when
Mr. Bremer returned to Baghdad and tried to convince Iraqis that they werent
yet ready for democracy.
Mr. Bremer argued the country was too insecure to hold elections, and besides,
there were no voter rolls. Few were convinced. In January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis
peacefully took to the streets of Baghdad, with 30,000 more in Basra. Their
chant was Yes, yes elections. No, no selections. At the time, many
argued that Iraq was safe enough to have elections and pointed out that the
lists from the Saddam-era oil-for-food program could serve as voter rolls. But
Mr. Bremer wouldnt budge and the UN scandalously and fatefully
backed him up.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Hussain al-Shahristani, chair of
the standing committee of the Iraqi National Academy of Science (imprisoned
under Saddam Hussein for 10 years), accurately predicted what would happen next.
Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later, wrote Mr. al-Shahristani.
The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established,
the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost.
Ten months and thousands of lost Iraqi and American lives later, elections
are scheduled to take place with part of the country in grips of yet another
invasion and much of the rest of it under martial law. As for the voter rolls,
the Allawi government is planning to use the oil-for-food lists, just as was
suggested and dismissed a year ago.
So it turns out that all of the excuses were lies: if elections can be held
now, they most certainly could have been held a year ago, when the country was
vastly calmer. But that would have denied Washington the chance to install a
puppet regime in Iraq, and possibly prevented George Bush from winning a second
|With the US elections safely over, Fallujah could be destroyed in the name of its own upcoming elections.|
Is it any wonder that Iraqis are skeptical of the version of democracy being
delivered to them by US. troops, or that elections have come to be seen not
as tools of liberation but as weapons of war? First, Iraqs promised elections
were sacrificed in the interest of George Bushs election hopes; next,
the siege of Fallujah itself was crassly shackled to these same interests. The
fighter planes didnt even wait an hour after George Bush finished his
acceptance speech to begin the air attack on Fallujah, with the city bombed
at least six times through the next day and night. With the US elections safely
over, Fallujah could be destroyed in the name of its own upcoming elections.
In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of
the US soldiers in Fallujah was to ambush the citys main hospital. Why?
Apparently because it was the source of the rumors about high civilian
casualties the last time U.S. troops laid siege to Fallujah, sparking outrage
in Iraq and across the Arab world. Its a center of propaganda,
an unnamed senior American officer told The New York Times. Without doctors
to count the dead, the outrage would be presumably be muted except that,
of course, the attacks on hospitals have sparked their own outrage, further
jeopardizing the legitimacy of the upcoming elections.
According to The New York Times, the Fallujah General Hospital was easy
to capture, since the doctors and patients put up no resistance. There was,
however, one injury, an Iraqi soldier who accidentally discharged his
Kalashnikov rifle, injuring his lower leg.
I think that means he shot himself in the foot. Hes not the only one.
Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador). THe article is reprinted from <www.nologo.org>.