Iraq: The Chaos Deepens
As election day draws closer, the guerrillas are conducting their own "shock and awe" campaign. Using increasingly larger bombs, they destroyed a pair of Bradleys in less than a week, in one case killing all seven soldiers inside. In the first two weeks of January alone, more than 200 people were killed, including twenty-five US soldiers. Assassinations are a part of daily life. Hamoudi, a fixer I know, describes the recent carefully coordinated assassination of the governor of Baghdad province, as related by Hamoudi's brother, who lives in the neighborhood and says he saw it happen.
"A pair went at 7 in the morning to some of the men in the neighborhood. One had a vegetable stand, the other sold cigarettes. They told the men to leave, and they did. They hid their weapons in the vegetable and cigarette stands. There were four mujahedeen on a roof of one of the nearby buildings, and when the governor drove by, they opened fire from both sides of the street. They did not kill a single civilian, but when the governor's bodyguards opened fire, they fired wildly."
All six of the bodyguards were killed, but the lead car, carrying the governor, escaped the ambush. "He drove away, but there was another car waiting for him. When he stopped at a traffic light, they got out of the car and killed him. It was just like something out of a movie," Hamoudi said.
Voter registration is being done through government ration distribution centers, and stories of intimidation of managers of such shops abound.
"No one has come to threaten me, but they have killed agents and bombed their houses and their shops," said Nahudth Hathayer, a shop manager in the west Baghdad district of Jadriyah, a generally affluent area that is well patrolled by the US military. He said members of the resistance have gone to other shops to demand that registration papers be turned over to them.
"Some of the agents had already distributed the papers, and then people came to the shops to threaten them and told them to get the papers back by the end of the day. They couldn't do this, and then they came to their houses and killed them."
While military operations against the vote seem to be carried out exclusively by Sunni militias, opposition to the elections is by no means solely a Sunni exercise. Wamidh Nadhmi is the former political science chair of Baghdad University and a member of the Iraqi National Founding Conference, a nonsectarian political party led by Jawad al-Khalsi, a Shiite cleric. The party decided to boycott the elections because a list of conditions they had submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission last fall, which included a withdrawal of US troops from inside cities and greater international monitoring, had not been met. They also took issue with the ability of the commission to delete candidates from the ballot.
"The right to delete names from the list is fully undemocratic, especially if that person is not a convict," Nadhmi said, before moving on to a more serious problem. There are 111 parties vying for the 275 seats in the national assembly (only 500 signatures are required to be listed as a political party), but most Iraqis can identify few of the candidates, save for well-known party leaders--the Electoral Commission has refused to release the lists, citing safety concerns, and few candidates are campaigning openly, for the same reason.
"I don't see how you could go into elections and vote for a list not knowing who its members are," Nadhmi said.
The two main coalitions, the United Iraqi Alliance (a conglomeration of former exiles, including Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, former neocon darling Ahmad Chalabi and current Iraqi vice president and leader of the Shiite Dawa Party Ibrahim Jaafari) and Allawi's Iraqi List, are expected to fare best at the polls. The UIA is the most visible coalition, using the Supreme Council's militia, the Badr Organization, as a ready-made force for putting up posters. Almost all the posters bear the image of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's politically reticent senior Shiite cleric. The UIA claims his exclusive approval.
"They claim they are supported by Sistani, but a lot of Shiite clerics say it is impossible Sistani would approve one list," Nadhmi says.