Who Really Won?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Exporting (Republican Dirty Tricks As Well As) Democracy to Iraq

Dozens of locals, all planning to vote against the draft constitution, had been turned away from the single polling station in town. Lying 40 miles north of Baghdad and just south of Samarra, Ishaki is in the middle of Iraq's Sunni central region, Saddam Hussein's old heartland.

According to election officials here, all those rejected were registered at another polling station 3 miles away -- the only place they would be allowed to vote under the referendum's stringent rules. But a driving ban inside all urban areas, designed to stop suicide bomb attacks, meant these Sunnis, entering the democratic process for the first time, had effectively been disenfranchised.

Hamid Hassan Mohammad, a 28-year-old school principal in the village of Jazeera, part of the wider Ishaki area, said there was a conspiracy to prevent Sunnis from casting votes.

Shortly after being told to leave the polling station, he said, "Maybe they did this on purpose. There are a lot of organizations who have spent a lot of money on this referendum, and they want to see they get the right result. ... There are lots of empty ballot papers, and their top officials will be filling them in with 'yes' to make sure the constitution passes. It's the fault of those in high positions and the bosses in Baghdad, and they will fix it."

Coordinators for the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq in the area, supported by a huge U.S. troop presence and Iraqi security services, insisted it was a genuine mistake and rushed to remedy the situation, removing the voting restriction. But for Sunnis, out in force on Saturday after January's election boycott, the damage had been done.