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If Elections Fail, It's the Iraqis' Fault

Reported by Marie Therese - January 28, 2005

Yesterday, John Gibson interviewed Bing West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, on the topic of Iraq's upcoming elections. Here's what they had to say.

GIBSON: The historic day just around the corner now - Sunday. Polling stations are in place and security's gearing up. But, just because you build it doesn't mean they'll come. It's now up to the Iraqis to make their democracy work by showing up to vote.

[COMMENT: Translation: It's now up to the Iraqis to save Bush's bacon!]

GIBSON: Quantitatively, how many Iraqis need to vote for the election to be declared a success?

WEST: One.

GIBSON: One?

WEST: By that I mean - even here in the United States we don't do particularly well a lot of times in our elections ... and always the losing party says "Son of a gun, if only I'd gotten more people out to vote."

GIBSON: But, Mr. West, we don't care who actually wins. We just want to see lots of Iraqis coming out and voting and that democracy is working and, if 60% of the Shi'a are supposed to come vote because they, of course, will win, and 20% of the Kurds are supposed to come vote because they want to participate, shouldn't we see an 80% turnout?

WEST: Well that would depend on the local conditions ... it's hard to predict that ...."

[At this point FOX aired two "Get Out the Vote" ads currently running on Iraqi TV. The first showed three groups of angry Iraqi men, marching down three separate streets, carrying three different flags. They all arrive at an intersection at the same time. Just as you think war is going to break out, three boys - one from each group - run to the middle of the intersection and hug each other. The violent mood dissipates and the men mingle together in friendship. The tagline reads "One homeland, one future." The second starts out with an Iraqi man, dressed in western clothes, confronted in an alley by masked terrorists. Gradually one, then two then a lot of other Iraqis join with him. The translation of the words reads: "On January 30 we meet out destiny and our duty. We are not alone and we are not afraid. Our strength is in our unity. Together we will work and together prevail. Don't worry about Iraq. We are its people. We will allow no one to deprive us of our rights. For the building of Iraq. Peace, freedom and democracy."]

GIBSON: Do you think it makes much of a difference that there's this kind of a campaign going on in the Iraqi media?

WEST (describing the content of the ads): Oh, I think it makes a vast difference because it shows that you have thousands of candidates and literally hundreds of parties ... the vast majority of people have decided what their future's going to be and their future is going to be some sort of pluralistic, democratic-based society. It's also showing everybody the view of the enemy and what their future is and their future is "we have no future." They've offered no plan. All they want to do is kill people.

And, if you look back in history to, for instance, 1793 in France with the Terror in France. That gradually ran its course over two years and finally Robespierre himself was put to the guillotine, because the entire society just got fed up with the nihilism, of just going out and killing people. This shows that the majority of Iraqis - the vast majority - want to move forward but it's also showing that the enemy has no political agenda.

GIBSON: ... You and I have great expectations because this is obviously an improvement to the Iraqi people. .. But, if they do get frightened away form the polls, if the turnout is below 80%, if it's 60% or it's 50% or it's 40%, when we know that the entire 60% of Iraq that are Shi'a wanna come out to vote and the entire ... 20% of Iraqi that are Kurds want come out and vote but they're frightened away, does that mean that democracy is a failure in Iraq?

WEST: Well, how? I mean, it simply. Setting up some kind of quantitative bar in advance, I don't think really makes sense because, regardless of where we put the bar, someone can always criticize it .. at the end of that day, they're going to have their own national assembly and out of that come a feeling: "This is our country."

GIBSON (with great urgency in his voice): I know that stuff! .. But just the same as the Iraqi invasion - as right as it was - it didn't have international legitimacy. It didn't have international credibility. In a way it has foundered because we've had no help from the people who should have been helping. Same thing here. If it doesn't have international legitimacy and credibility, everybody's gonna say it's a failure. Don't we have to PROVE [his emphasis] it works on Sunday?

WEST: We don't have to prove it. The United Nations set up the rules for this and it's going to go forward and the fact that it is the Iraqis themselves that are going to go forward, I think, is going to be the proof. I don't think we should establish a certain bar and say that's what establishes a democracy in a country, when so many people vote, because we couldn't pass that bar ourselves.

COMMENT

Seems to be a lot of wishful thinking in the halls of FOX these days. I have visions of all the employees walking around with their fingers crossed.

The sad thing is that Iraq is in kind of a double bind.

If the elections are declared a "success," the White House will pat itself on the back, pop the champagne corks, break out the cigars and declare a victory for George Bush's expansionist policies.

If, on the other hand, things don't go so well, they'll just blame the Iraqis, claiming they weren't ready for the precious gift of democracy that we have given them.

The following report disputes some of the rose-colored scenarios that have been bandied about in the past weeks.

From BAGHDAD: My friend from Baquba visited me yesterday. He brought the usual giant lunch of home cooked food he always brings when he comes to see me. I'm still eating it, actually. I had it again for dinner tonight. Ah, the typical Iraqi meal.

He owns four large tents, and rents them to people in his city to use at funeral wakes, marriage parties, tribal negotiation meetings and to cover gardens, among other things.

During the Anglo-American invasion of his country back in the spring of 2003, when refugees from Baghdad sought shelter from the falling bombs, many of the families inundated his city. After his house was filled with refugees, he let others use his tents, for free of course.

Refugees from Fallujah are using them now.

At least 35 US soldiers have died in Iraq today. 31 of them died when a Chinook went down near the Jordanian border. At least four others died in clashes in the al-Anbar province. A patrol on the airport road was bombed, destroying at least one military vehicle. The military hasn't released any casualty figures on that one yet.

"Bring ‘em on," said George Bush quite some time ago, when the Iraqi resistance had begun to pick up the pace.

Today, during a press conference he spoke about the upcoming elections in Iraq.

"Clearly there are some who are intimidated," he said, "I urge alls (not a typo) people to vote."

Let me describe the scene on the ground here in "liberated" Iraq.

With the "elections" just three days away, people are terrified. Families are fleeing Baghdad much as they did prior to the invasion of the country. Seeking refuge from what everyone fears to be a massive onslaught of violence in the capital city, huge lines of cars are stacked up at checkpoints on the outer edges of the city.

Policemen and Iraqi soldiers are trying to convince people to stay in the city and vote.

Nobody is listening to them.

Whereas Baghdad is filled with Fallujah refugees, now villages and smaller cities on the outskirts of Baghdad are filling up with election refugees.

Yet these places aren't safe either. In Baquba attacks on polling stations are a near daily occurrence. Mortar attacks are common on polling stations even as far south as Basra. A truck bomb struck a Kurdish political party headquarters in a small town near Mosul, killing 15 people, wounding twice that many. A string of car bombs detonated at polling stations in Kirkuk, which was already under an 8pm-5am curfew, killing 10 Iraqis.

Here in Baghdad, although the High Commission for Elections in Iraq has yet to announce their locations, schools which are being converted into polling stations are already being attacked.

Iraqis who live near these schools are terrorized at the prospect.

"They can block the whole city and people cannot move," says a man speaking to me on condition of anonymity, "The city is dead, the people are dead. For what? For these forced elections!"

He is angry and frustrated because his street is now blocked as he lives near a small yellow middle school that is going to be used as a polling station.

Nearby some US soldiers are occupying a police station, as usual. One of them saw me taking photos and tried to confiscate my camera.

It didn't matter that I showed him my press badge. After some talking he let me delete the photos and move on, camera in hand.

Sand barriers block the end of a street, the school where the insides are already in disrepair sits just behind them.

At least 90 streets in Baghdad are now closed down by huge sand and/or concrete barriers and razor wire. The number is growing daily.

"Now I'm afraid mortars will hit my home if the polling station is attacked," he adds. He'll be moving across town to stay at a relative's house, which is not near one of the dreaded polling stations.

An owner of a small grocery shop nearby is just as concerned. He had to negotiate with soldiers to have them leave an opening on the end of the barrier so people could access his place of business.

"I'm already living off my food ration, and have little business," he says while pointing at the deserted street, "Now who wants to come near my shop? All of us are afraid, and all of us are suffering now."

A tired looking guard standing nearby named Salman chimes in on the conversation. "I would be crazy to vote, it's so dangerous now," he says with a cigarette dangling from his hand, "Besides, why vote? Of course Allawi will stay in. The Americans will make it so."

A contact of mine just returned from spending a week in Fallujah. We shared some of the food brought from my friend in Baquba.

"I'd been in Fallujah for a week and all I'd seen was tough military tactics," he tells me, "They are arresting people and putting them in these trucks, blindfolded and tied up. Everywhere I looked all I saw was utter devastation."

He spoke with many families who told him one horror story after another, death after death after death.

"Then today, the military brings in a dozen Humvees and ground troops to basically seal off a small area near a market," he continues, "In the middle of them is a CNN camera crew filming troops throwing candy to kids and these guys in orange vests start cleaning the streets around them."

He laughs while holding up his arms and says, "I'd never seen those guys anywhere in the city before. I don't know where they came from."

After a pause to take a drink of soda he adds, "I'd never seen any boots on the ground at all, and all of the sudden there are all these marines standing around like everything was ok. It was the first time I'd seen any soldier not in a Humvee or a Bradley. I was really surprised."

"All of it was 100% staged. Good PR before the election," he says. Then in a reference to mainstream America he adds, "Fallujah is fine, now go back to sleep."

Filed January 27th by Dahr Jamail. For more reports go to Dahr's blog.

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