Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

What was really won?

Are the elections in Iraq really the beginning of the end of the despotism that has characterized the Middle East for generations and a true new era for the cause of democracy in that part of the world? Here in the wilderness, unlike so many newsrooms around the world that tumbled all over themselves to declare the polling in Iraq a success ("Iraqi turnout trumps violence," trumpeted the Los Angeles Times; Iraqis defy threats as millions vote," sayeth the Washington Post, defiantly), we have no idea.

But even Don Rumsfeld (why does this sound eerily like "Don Corleone"?) has said it
wouldn't be known for several months if whatever government emerges from the voting can get it together. Who can predict with any degree of certainty what will ensue as the representatives to the national assembly, chosen by what seems to be mostly Shia voters with a smattering of Sunnis and a dash of Kurds, ostensibly meet to first, draft a constitution, and second, put in place the mechanism for establishing real participatory government.

Iraq President Ghazi al-Yawer said it would be "complete nonsense" to ask U.S. and British troops to leave, although some could be pulled out by the end of the year if things stabilize. However, many nations in the "coalition" do intend to withdraw, according to Stephen J. Hedges, whose story in the Chicago Tribune was widely disseminated (but not by the Des Moines Register, which thought it more important to devote nearly a full page to the dismissal of a University of Iowa basketball star who has been mentioned in connection with a criminal investigation):
Ukraine has begun plans to withdraw its 1,600 troops, a move backed by the new president, Viktor Yushchenko, whose campaign included a promise to bring the troops home.

In December, 300 Hungarian soldiers left; they had intended to stay through the election, but were ordered home early by the Hungarian parliament.

Poland, which maintained an important military presence in hot spots south of Baghdad, has decided to cut its force from 2,400 troops to 1,700, and government officials have suggested that more withdrawals could occur. Thirteen Polish soldiers have been killed in Iraq.
President Bush refused to issue a timeline; for withdrawal in his state of the Union speech Wednesday night. And if Thursday's attacks are any indications, analyses of the election being a setback for the resistance are premature.

But in the aftermath of the elections, Iraq remains a country in very, very, very bad shape. And as any student of political science will tell you, discontent grows in direct proportion to which developing expectations are not realized. The citizens of Iraq are going to want their country rebuilt and returned to them. Neither is expected to happen any time soon.

Over here, the story has been the elections, the resistance attacks, but precious little devoted to what conditions remain in Iraq. Ahmed Janabi conducted a report for al Jazeera, and what he found will not strike courage into the hearts and minds of those who believe time is on our side:
Insecurity, unemployment, a lack of electricity and drinking water, as well as a shortage of fuel are among the many facts of daily life, some Baghdad women say.

The shortage of fuel has made winter especially tough on families. Room heating and hot water are essential in temperatures that sometimes reach zero.
In a separate article, Janabi describes how those Iraqis with the wherewithal to do so are leaving the country:
Fear of criminal gangs that carry out targeted killings and kidnap children and businessmen for ransom has driven many rich Iraqis out of their home country in search of a more peaceful life abroad.
In the U.S. we call that "voting with your feet."


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