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Occupied Elections: Journalist Christian Parenti on Voting from Afghanistan to Iraq

StoryJanuary 31, 2005
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We speak with Christian Parenti, correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the new book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

  • Christian Parenti, correspondent for the Nation Magazine and author of “The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up our discussion with Christian Parenti, author of the new book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq. Christian has gone to Iraq three times, most recently was in Afghanistan for their elections. Welcome to Democracy Now! CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Thanks for having me back.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what has taken place in Iraq?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, I think that the Iraqi elections in many ways pose two approximate for the Bush administration. One to the extend that they don’t work and two to the extend that they do work. To the extend that they don’t work, that the Sunni population boycotts the elections and that they just become a fiasco and undermine the legitimacy of the new government, that thus undermines the legitimacy of the occupation to the extend that the elections do work and the Shia majority, as Robert Fisk was saying earlier, get power that, then, poses problems for the US it is entirely unclear what the two main Shia parties that are spiritual, but not necessarily political allegiance to Ali Sistani will do. In the past, they have said that they support Shari’a law. Most of their leaders have spent exile time in Iran and one of the key questions here is how, if the us is indeed as Seymour Hersh has indicated can recently, ramping up some destabilization of Iran, where will a Shia-led government in Iraq fit into all that? So, it’s not clear at all that the US will be able to control the Shia and it’s important to remember that this election was in many ways forced upon the US from the very beginning of the occupation, the Shia were demanding elections and they were demanding elections of exactly this sort, that would use the food rationing cards as a basis for the voter roles. Paul Bremer the civilian leader of the occupation before Negroponte said for months that there had to be a census, there had to be this and that. It wasn’t until a year ago January ’04 when Sistani basically laid down an ultimatum and Shia hit the streets in the thousands and demand an election and threatened to escalate that the Bush administration capitulated and agreed to this UN brokered elections. So, since then, the Bush Administration has been trying to stage manage this and re-brand the occupation as a progress

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. Yesterday in London I was on the BBC with the head of an organization called Republicans Abroad. She lives in London, and she was making the point that the Shia have basically promised that they won’t put Sheiks in power and that’s why this is so good.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, I mean, yeah. Who knows what’s going to happen? I can’t predict. It seems that the strategy at this point is to make the Shia political leadership feel threatened by the Sunni insurgency. There’s been this spate of assassination and assassination attempts and probably to essentially blackmail the Shia into continuing to accept US occupation as the price of their survival. But the fact of the matter is that the Shia leadership and the Shia rank and file, all Iraqis, want the US out and that problem is not going to go away for the US. So, how far it plays out, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s going to be — I don’t think this is an easy victory for the Bush Administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Having been in Afghanistan for their elections, can you talk about the significance of these elections with US forces in both places?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, the elections in Afghanistan were riddled with frauds and all journalists on the ground saw that. Very little of it was reported. There’s been even less access in Iraq. Most of the elections observers are in Amman. So, the capacity for fraud in these elections is enormous. Likewise, the possibility of block voting is, you know, intense, where parties like the Dawa party just turn out their rank and file to vote for the slate and they’re not being a real contest. Another thing we’ve heard from people on the ground is that the government has been using intimidation to try and get people to vote. They’ve been saying that if you don’t get your food ration cards upon which all this is based marked, you might not get your ration and everyone is totally dependent on that and that might help explain the voter turn out. Also, I mean, we’ve seen–immediately there’s a line from the Iraqi electoral commission. They said, the guy came out and said, oh, there’s been 75% turnout. And then pressed on that, he backed down to 50% possibly and admitted that this was a guesstimate based on people’s impressions from the fields. So, I suspect that there’s been lots of frauds and that that will, by and large, the frauds will be used to boost Allawi’s slate because the US definitely wants Allawi and his slate to have significant power in this new government to moderate the Dawa and the suprem council.

AMY GOODMAN: On the one hand, you have areas of Iraq where the polls didn’t even open, especially in Sunni areas. But you have very large turnout in Shia areas. Including in Baghdad, large Shia turnout. Ultimately now what this means for the United States and what this means for George Bush.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, it means — I mean, at one level it means nothing. They still have this problem of a guerilla war that is out of control in central Iraq. But it could mean that there is a now newly legitimatised Shia political force that will take institutional power and could undermine the occupation in all sorts of interesting ways. I mean, George Bush said he would leave if they asked us to leave, so the key thing of course, is to get them to not ask us to leave, and how they do that will involve bribery and intimidation and similar things, but it is by no means guaranteed that it is clean sailing for the Bush administration after this.

AMY GOODMAN: Also in the midst of these elections, two planes down, one US Military, one British military and looks like it yesterday turned out to be the deadliest day to date for British forces with the Hercules plane going down. The militant group Ansar Al Islam claimed it shot down the plane. What do you think this means for the resistance in this case, but overall the elections?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: I mean, I think that the resistance is —

AMY GOODMAN: You were in a sense embedded with them at certain points.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah. I met the Sadyr’s guys as well as Sunni resistance. I think the resistance is going to continue, that it has continued military success. The basic equation with this war is that the US could only win it politically. It has completely blundered that side of it, an indication most recently what you read at the top of the how, $8 point something billion squandered by the US. That was the opportunity when the US could have done reconstruction and won the hearts and minds. They completely lost that side of the fight. Now they try to beat the resistance militarily and it is hopeless. There is no way they can do that because the US Military already controls the entire country. So, it — the problem is it doesn’t control the population. And each move it makes from laying waste to Fallujah to forcing this election down the throats of everyone, refusing to negotiate with the association of Muslim scholars, managing to alienate the Islamic party, the mainstream Sunni party, all of that just turns the population, the Sunni population against the occupation. And even though the Shia have voted, it helps to alienate the Shia. So, there’s no military solution to this war. The war is going to continue unless the Bush administration or whoever comes afterwards, completely transforms its methodologies and negotiates with its enemies and prepares to lose and prepares to cede power, which is not going to happen. So, this basically — we’re just going to see the same type of deterioration of conditions, the same type of violence continuing. The one thing I think is important to think about is like the potential for a Shia-Sunni civil war. I always though that was hyped in the US Press and I think it is to an extent. There are huge tribes in Iraq that are both Sunni and Shia. I can’t. What you do have are minorities that are the political vanguards on either side that definitely do have beef with each other and definitely are have daggers drawn and how that will play out, who knows?

AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, thank you for joining us. His book is The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq.

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