As the scheduled Jan. 30 date for elections in Iraq steadily approaches, we speak with California State University professor As’ad AbuKhalil about the mounting problems surrounding the vote. [includes rush transcript]
Jordan is hosting a meeting of Iraq’s neighbors today to rally support for Iraqi elections on the scheduled date of January 30th. Representatives from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria are expected to attend. Iran’s foreign minister is boycotting the meeting in protest at comments by Jordan’s King Abdullah who has accused Tehran of meddling in Iraq and trying to create a Shia sphere of influence in the region.
Representatives from Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain and the UN are also expected.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani Mulki said Amman wants all the nations present to issue a “clear message” to Iraqis that they should vote in the poll.
But as the scheduled date for elections in Iraq steadily approaches, chances that the vote will actually take place on Jan. 30 seem to be diminishing.
Earlier this week, Adnan Pachahci, a senior Sunni politician, reiterated his call for a postponement of the elections in an article in the Washington Post. Iraqi defense minister Hazem al-Shaalan also mentioned the possibility of postponing the elections and has traveled to Cairo to formally request the Egyptian government to encourage Iraqi Sunnis to participate in the elections.
Iraqi president Ghazi Al-Yawar is also raising strong doubts about the vote and called on the UN to step in, saying that the UN “should really step up for their responsibilities and obligations by saying whether [the election] is possible or not.”
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called President Bush this week to discuss the problems with the vote. Allawi is a staunch advocate for holding the vote on the scheduled Jan. 30 date but The New York Times reports that many in Washington interpreted the call “as an effort to test the waters, and to determine if Mr. Bush would brook a delay.”
- As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of several books on the Middle East, his latest is “The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power.” He runs a new blog called “The Angry Arab News Service.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by As’ad AbuKhalil, who’s a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. An author of several books on the Middle East, his latest is The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power. Runs the new blog called angryarab.blogspot.com. Welcome to Democracy Now!
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to these latest developments. Do you think the vote will be held on January 30? What will happen?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, Amy, the question is some vote may be held because there are two influential Iraqis who are insisting against postponing the election. One of them is Grand Ayatollah Sistani and the other one is George W. Bush. Because it is become obvious now that the puppet Prime Minister of Iraq, Allawi, has placed a friendly call to the White House in which he was indicating his concern not only for whether the Sunnis will participate, but about his losing fortunes. I mean, I think (and The New York Times did indicate) that he’s very concerned about his utter unpopularity and the White House wants so bad to keep him in that position. And you also see in Iraq so many disunited voices within the puppet government itself and elsewhere. And we saw yesterday the so-called president, puppet president of Iraq, was also expressing strong reservation and criticism against the United States doing what it did in Fallujah, which is basically destroying the city. And Iraqi newspapers are also indicating that there is not enough information about this election. According to Ayad Allawi’s own newspaper, Al-Sabah, some seven percent of Iraqis really know the agendas and programs of the various electoral lists. And, worse than that, money of the — many of the lists — electoral listed they’re supposedly be voting on do not carry the names of the candidate for security reasons. So, you’re supposed to vote for a list. The names on the list are only known to the leaders of the party for security reasons. So, we are seeing a fragmentation of the country along the sectarian lines of Sunnis and Shiites, Kurdish and Arabs; and we feel very clear evidence that the country of Iraq is going to be very difficult to patch back together after George W. Bush’s style of liberation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But one question about this whole issue of the sectarian differences: The Shiite majority has been portrayed here in the U.S. press largely as supportive of these elections, as opposed to Sunnis. Any thoughts on that, whether this — the question of supporting or opposing the elections is basically one of — of the normal sectarian divisions within Iraq?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Well, there’s so many misconceptions in American coverage about what’s going on. Let’s take also the question about the Shiites being led by Ayatollah Sistani who we are told is a secular leader, I mean, who is far from it. This is a Grand Ayatollah who wants to have a marriage between clerics and the government, and he wants to run the government. And, in fact, you see his picture on the posters of the main list that he has officially endorsed. Second, there are important factions within the Shiite community, people who are loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr who have not gone away, who are also interested in trying to have Sunnis become part of the political process. The country is disunited within communities, and also outside of the communities.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Also, what about this whole issue of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis abroad, especially in the United States, who will be participating in the vote, and it sounds like the U.S. government will be doing everything possible to mobilize the U.S. Iraqi vote?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: This is, I think, where one should keep their eye for the potential fraud that is going to be managed by the Bush administration. Don’t be surprised if you find a lot of the red states voting for the Iraqi election in order to arrange for the perpetuation of power by the puppet Prime Minister and his cronies. I think the United States is in a position to — it was the government that was pushing for the participation of the so-called Iraqis abroad because they feel, 'Maybe that way we will find support for these unpopular crooks and unsavory characters, many of which were henchmen for Saddam who are now America's client inside the country.’ In fact, in Jordan, the country you mentioned where there is this meeting that’s being held, which is at the urging of the United States, I mean, it failed before it began. The Iranians have boycotted it and criticized the Jordanian government. The Jordanians have been critical of the meeting; and, in fact, there was a debate in the Jordanian parliament yesterday calling on the government to desist from plastering the streets of Amman with posters that are pro-election, because they say that this is part of the American attempt to have many of these people vote in a way that is convenient to the American public. I should also mention that what is not reported in the American press is an important interview in a Lebanese newspaper today with Prime Minister of Jordan, in which he admitted that there are plans in Jordan in place to prepare for the eventual occurrence of a bloody civil war inside Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they will be using Diebold machines in voting?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they’ll be using Diebold machines?
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I have no doubt that the Jordanian government, which has extensive experience corruption, brutality as well as fraud, will do all their powers to facilitate the plan of Bush administration to garner some support for the puppet Prime Minister. Let us not forget that the puppet Prime Minister Allawi has also a loyalty to the Jordanian intelligence service which was also behind the founding of his unpopular organization.
AMY GOODMAN: I actually meant Diebold voting machines in Iraq on January 30 if the vote goes forward.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Yeah, I mean, I am not sure how the fraud is going to take place, but I think that there is already signs of an imbalance in voting, and it is going to reinforce differences between Sunnis and Shiites.
AMY GOODMAN: Last question. It has to do with the bombing in Mosul of December 21 and the news coming out now that it was a Saudi medical student whose father, though wouldn’t confirm this, said his son did go to Iraq to fight and died Your response.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: My response to this is: I am utterly amazed about two things that come out about the question of neighboring countries. One of them is that you have the Jordanians — the Jordanian king when he’s in Washington, who would never dare say these things in Arabic, because he always denies in Arabic what he says in English, coming here and talking about Iranian interference which leaves one with the impression that the neighboring countries of Iraq are not supposed to intervene, but the country that is 10,000 miles away from Iraq, the United States, has every right to intervene. The second thing about that is, if one looks at American statements about the intervention by Syria and by Iran, nobody hears a word about the Saudis; and yet, if you look at Saudi websites and the Saudi press, they always carry articles about many fanatical Saudi extremists, people loyal to Bin Laden and others are infiltrating into Iraq, and the websites of many of these groups are full with statements and interviews that are part of the support, propaganda support for the insurgency, and we don’t hear anything about that. It seems that the Bush administration is very ginger in dealing with the Saudi house of — royal family, which is typical in American foreign policy, and yet they’re very forthcoming and outspoken about Syria and Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s very interesting to look at the U.S. press, how little attention has been paid to this information, and if the person who had blown up the U.S. soldiers in Mosul was Iranian or Syrian —
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: You’re absolutely right.
AMY GOODMAN: I think we would probably know their names and their family stories or —
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Let us not forget that —
AMY GOODMAN: Certainly their country of origin.
AS’AD ABUKHALIL: Let us not forget that 26 Syrian clerics in Saudi Arabia issued a statement that was even mentioned in the Saudi press in which they called on Saudis to go to Iraq and engage in holy war.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, As’ad AbuKhalil. He runs a blog called angryarab.blogspot.com.