As Iraq's election decends from manipulation to thuggery to outright brutality, assassinations, and bombings, it's hard to know what reaction to have to Vice President Biden's comment that Iraq is a great triumph for the Obama administration.
My own reaction: sadness and outrage.
Appearing on the CNN program hosted by the always insipid Larry King, Biden said:
"I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You're going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.
"I spent -- I've been there 17 times now. I go about every two months -- three months. I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society. It's impressed me. I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."
You can read the complete transcript of Biden's comments here.
That is not to say that blustery Vice President Cheney's comments are correct. Cheney's comments, not surprisingly, are even more outrageous. The ex-veep wants the credit for the sterling democracy that Iraq is today, failing to mention that Iraq is descending into an abyss of stolen and rigged elections, renewed violence, and possibly much worse. That doesn't faze Cheney:
"If they're going to take credit for it, fair enough, for what they've done while they're there. But it ought to go with a healthy dose of 'thank you, George Bush' up front and a recognition that some of their early recommendations, with respect to prosecuting that war, were just dead wrong. If they had had their way, if we'd followed the policies they'd pursued from the outset or advocated from the outset, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Baghdad today."
Well. Perhaps Cheney is right that Saddam might still be in power. But many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive, along with 4,000 dead Americans. Iraq would have a functioning government and an expanding economy, and Iran would not have infiltrated nearly all of Iraq's political, economic, and military institutions. And the United States would be at least one trillion dollars richer. The price of oil might be significantly lower, too.
As for Iraq, well, the March 7 elections look like they are going to follow in the pattern of Iran's and Afghanistan's, i.e., rigged. The debate over the banning of 500-plus candidates by an unelected panel headed by an Iran-linked terrorist, Ali al-Lami, is apparently over, and nearly all of the candidates have been barred from running. Among those barred are Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani, the No. 2 and No. 3 candidates in the main opposition bloc, the Iraqi Nationalist Movement, which is led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Already, two members of Allawi's party have been assassinated while campaigning. Five bombs struck five offices of the main, Sunni-led opposition parties in Baghdad on Saturday, including Mutlaq's. Allawi, who many observers say had a credible chance of winning enough votes to lead a governing coalition after the election, has suspended his campaign, and he is mooting the idea of an election boycott. Already, many Sunni leaders are talking about a boycott.
Reports Al Jazeera:
"A secular Iraqi political coalition has suspended its election campaign over a ban on some of its candidates, as blasts hit political offices across Baghdad.
"The blasts late on Saturday, as well as the ongoing dispute over banned election candidates, have heightened tensions during the run up to Iraq's parliamentary vote, scheduled for March 7. ...
"Hours later a blast struck the political offices of Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni politician and co-founder of the Iraqiya list, who is among those barred from the election.
"Another bomb was thrown into the garden of a building used by Sunni scholars, including poll candidates, in Mansour in west Baghdad, wounding two guards.
"A third blast damaged the headquarters of the United Iraq list in east Baghdad."
"It has become clear to Iraqis that this political campaign is fake. The international community should not recognize any government that emerges from it."
Dhafir al-Ani said:
"I still don't know why I was banned. What is the charge against me?"
Yet another banned candidate, Nabil Khalil Saied, said:
"I believe that after this decision [to ban candidates] there will be no hope for any kind of reconciliation."
The banned candidates are almost entirely secular and nationalist Iraqis, who oppose Iran's heavy-handed influence over Iraqi politics, across a wide range of parties. They were banned because of spurious allegations that they were members of the banned Baath party, supporters of the Baath, propagandists for Baathist ideas, or belonged to the Iraqi military or intelligence services under the former regime. Needless to say, millions of Iraqis fall into one or more of those categories. It's a political purge, backed by violence and assassinations, aimed at preventing the opposition from getting any traction on March 7.
Feisal al-Istrabadi, a lawyer who helped draft the transitional laws that governed Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 and who served as the new government's ambassador to the United Nations, told me that there is absolutely no legal basis for the Iraqi court's decision to reverse itself and to reinstate the candidates ban. (What happened was that the ban was imposed by the Justice and Accountability Commission, controlled by Lami and Ahmed Chalabi, upheld by the Iraqi High Election Commission, then struck down by an appeals court. Then, Maliki met with the head of Iraq's supposedly independent judiciary, Midhat al-Mahmoud, along with key government officials and with members of parliament, and put pressure on the top judge, who in turn convinced the appeals court -- for political reasons -- to reverse itself!)
Istrabadi told me:
"Maliki has manipulated the judiciary into giving him what he wants. The judges got it right the first time. You can't ban candidates without evidence. You can't ban people over just allegations. ... The current regime in Iraq has coopted the regular judiciary in a way that even the previous regime did not succeed in doing for thirty-five years."
Istrabadi said that Maliki met with the chief justice, Midhat al-Mahmoud, before the appeals court reevaluated its prior ruling, before it reversed itself, and he suggested that Maliki -- for reasons purely political -- convinced, pressured, or cajoled the chief justice to make sure that the lower court changed its mind.
Chalabi, once a close American ally and confidante of neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Daniella Pletka, and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, blasted the United States for interfering in Iraq's election by calling for the banned candidates to be allowed to run. Said Chalabi:
"The appeal committee was submitted publicly to the pressure of foreign groups, like Vice President Biden who said when he was in Iraq (in January) that he hoped Iraqi justice will dissolve the committee of integrity and accountability. Or when the American ambassador in Baghdad expressed his wish that the Iraqi justice system will solve an inconvenient matter, the issue of the 500 candidates."
It's true that Biden and Ambassador Christopher Hill tried to work, behind the scenes, to get the ban reversed. That they failed to do so is proof that US influence in Baghdad is close to zero, despite the dwindling presence of 120,000 US troops, and that Iran's influence is gaining strength. The original ban on the 511 candidates was the result of action by Chalabi and Lami, both of whom have extremely close ties to Iran. So, too, does the Iraqi Shiite religious-political establishment.
So much for Biden's fatuous comment that Iraq is "one of the great achievements of this administration." The only question that remains is, Will the next Iraqi government be an illegitimate, strongman regime headed by a Shiite sectarian quasi-dictator with close ties to Tehran, or will Iraq be plunged once again into a cycle of violence and civil war? Or both.
Heckuva job, Bidey.