“My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”
– George W. Bush, March 2003
On the 20th of March 2003, President George W. Bush announced to international media the foreign policy directive which would mould his Presidential legacy and divide politicians to an unprecedented scale. In an address to the nation, he declared that war on Iraq had officially begun.
In his address, Bush had specified, in liaison with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, that the objective of the invasion was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people. Although citizens throughout the United States, as well as in the other original coalition forces (United Kingdom, Australia, Poland) were taken by surprise, the move was far from unforeseen. Bush had already declared a “war on terror” in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the 11th of September, 2001. Indeed, the programme of invasion had entered the agenda of US domestic policy several years before. In October 1998, removing the Hussein regime became official U.S. foreign policy with enactment of the Iraq Liberation Act, and the Republican Party platform for the election in 2000 included stronger enforcement of the terms of this act, which, signed by President Clinton, explicitly called for regime change in Iraq and condemned Iraq’s breach of international and human rights law. So, when the provisions of the Act actually manifested in the form of substantive measures, it was not altogether surprising. What US citizens, and indeed many politicians, did not prepare themselves for, however, was an invasion lasting over a decade, costing over $2 trillion dollars and the lives of over 6,000 American soldiers.
The invasion has always been the subject of heavy criticism, even with claims of illegality and war crimes being fired at Bush. Last month marked the 10 year anniversary of troops being deployed and troops from the various coalition forces are slowly being withdrawn. Today, however, the efforts of 25 countries in the coalition forces as well as NATO troops have been put to the test in Iraq’s provincial elections- the first since the withdrawal of US troops. This article provides a brief breakdown of the parties involved and the key areas of contention.
The unique demographics of Iraq have meant that the main political parties can be divided along sectarian fault lines. On the Shia side, there is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s party, the State of Law coalition, as well as the Islamic Supreme Council led by cleric Ammar al-Hakim and the Sadrist Movement led by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr. For the Sunnis, there is the Islamic party, the Renewal List led by fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi, and the National Dialogue Front led by Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlaq. And as for the Kurds, there is the Brotherhood and Co-existence Alliance. The party of former dictator Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party, was outlawed in Iraq several years ago; as a result, over 100 candidates have been disqualified due to having alleged ties with the party. In total, over 8,000 candidates will be contesting almost 400 seats, from all the parties mentioned above and other, smaller parties. This means that the choice faced by voters is huge, and as result, it is highly improbable that any one party will gain a majority of seats.
The elections have been held amongst a backdrop of raging violence, particularly sectarian in nature. As a result, policemen and armed service workers were given the vote a week ahead of ordinary citizens so that they would be on call to respond to any violence and disruption on the Election Day itself. However, this seems to have been of little consequence. Fourteen candidates running in provincial elections scheduled for Saturday have been killed. The number of bombings aimed at security personnel and civilians has risen dramatically recently, with 50 people killed on Monday alone. Al Qaeda supporters wanting to disrupt the elections are presumed to be responsible for the terrorist bombings. Much of the tension also arises from the fact that Iraq’s minority Sunni population feels marginalised by the Shia-dominated government. What is remarkable about the Iraqi elections is that they are dominated by sectarian issues; party platforms and candidates’ individual agendas seem to be of little significance.
But even amongst the violence, there exists the probing issue of whether or not the votes will be fair. Iraqi political analysts have reported with confidence to the BBC that the elections will be, in one way or another, rigged. As a result, analysis shows that the Iraqi voters themselves were less than enthused about going to the polls today. It seems, therefore, that the odds are stacked against this year’s elections being the free, fair, open and democratic elections that the coalition forces hoped would result from the invasion when it was launched in 2003. But as votes are being counted, at the time of writing this article, it remains to be seen whether democracy, operating within a deeply divided and unstable political environment, has manifested itself as a reality, or continues to be a far-distance pipedream for the citizens of Iraq.