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The Iraqi People Will Defy the Ba'athists and Islamofascists By: William Shawcross
The Guardian | Thursday, January 27, 2005

Just look at who is trying to stop Iraqis voting and by what methods. That alone shows how important this week's elections are to Iraq.
The horrific war against the Iraqi people  is being run by the same people who oppressed and tortured them for decades - Saddam's henchmen and gaolers. They are more than ably abetted  by the Islamofascist jihadists  led by Osama bin Laden's Heydrich in Iraq,  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Elections really do matter to people - especially to people  who have been denied them.  We saw that in 1993 when millions of Cambodians braved threats from the Khmer Rouge. We saw it in Algeria in 1995, when the government, almost overcome by years of Islamist terrorist assault, called elections and the silent majority defied the terrorists' threats and voted en masse.

We saw it much more recently  in Afghanistan,  where the people confounded the western critics and scoffers and,  despite Taliban threats,  voted overwhelmingly to put the curse of the Taliban's Islamic extremism  behind them.

And we are seeing it most brutally and clearly  in Iraq today, where everyone associated with the attempt to give the Iraqi people a decent future  risks being murdered.

One of the foreign heroes  of the Iraqi election process  is Carlos Valenzuela, the Colombian who is the chief UN election official in Baghdad.  He has been asked constantly  if legitimate elections can take place  despite the non-stop violence, the car bombs, the suicide bombers, the multiple murders. He has replied yes.

"Look," he has said, "in my country we have elections that are not perfect, that have been marred by violence and terrible intimidation. But still people go to the polls. And still the results are accepted as legitimate."

He has also, quite rightly,  praised the Iraqi election workers.  If you need one image to remind  you what this election is about,  remember the horrific photograph  from December  of three Iraqi election workers  dragged from their car in Baghdad and murdered,  on camera,  in the street.

The Iraqi elections  are at one level  a brutal theocratic struggle  between Sunni and Shia, between Bin Laden  and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani, the principal leader of the Shias, who constitute 60% of the Iraqi population, has told his followers  that it is their duty to vote.  But in a video aired on al-Jazeera, Bin Laden declared that

"Anyone who participates in these elections... has committed apostasy against Allah".
He endorsed killing of security people in the new government -

"Their blood is permitted. They are apostates whose deaths should not be prayed over."

Zarqawi describes the Shias as

"the lurking snakes  and the crafty scorpions,  the spying enemy and the penetrating venom, the most evil of mankind".
Every day he murders more. Last Friday a car bomber murdered 14 people, including children,  as they left their mosque in Baghdad.  He murdered Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim,  the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,  one of the principal Shia parties,  and he recently tried to murder Hakim's brother and successor. In that attack  13 other Iraqis were killed and 66 wounded.

Allied to the Islamist groups  are Ba'athist groups  who want to restore Sunni Ba'athist dictatorship. Several of their military leaders were arrested in Falluja in November.

One was Colonel Muayed al-Nasseri,  who said that Saddam had set up his group, Muhammad's Army,  after the fall of Baghdad.  Under interrogation he said  that his group had been receiving aid from both Iran and Syria,  neither of which  wish to see a democracy in Iraq.  He said Iran had given them  "one million dollars... cars, weapons... even car bombs".  He said that Saddam had sent him to Syria  to liaise with Syrian intelligence, which was proving especially helpful  with money. Other Saddamite officials  are working with impunity  from Damascus. Washington has protested about this,  but the US has not yet put any really strong pressure on Syria.

The impact of terrorism on the election  has already been huge.  Many of the political parties  have not dared name their candidates  for fear they will be murdered.  Public meetings  are virtually impossible. The risks of going to the polling stations  are real everywhere, huge in some places. Many candidates have been murdered; those who are elected  will face real dangers.

What is astonishing  is that people still seem determined to vote for a new Iraq. A recent poll by the London-based paper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat found that 66% of those asked  supported the elections on schedule. Iraqi women, who due to past bloodshed  constitute a majority of the Iraqi population,  are particularly interested.

According to the latest poll  conducted in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra  by Women for Women International,

"94% of women surveyed want to secure legal rights for women; 84% of women want the right to vote on the final constitution; [and] nearly 80% of women believe that their participation in local and national councils  should not be limited... despite increasing violence, particularly against women, 90.6% of Iraqi women reported that they are hopeful about their future".

Although al-Jazeera broadcasts poison,  Iraqi domestic television  is now among the freest in the region. There are more than 20 licensed local TV stations, and 65% of the population  are thought to have satellite dishes,  banned until the fall of Saddam.

People are being extremely brave  in flouting the demands of the killers. Both Kurds and Shias are resisting the horrific provocations  from Sunni terrorists. The election will not end the crisis in Iraq. But Iraqis,  like the Algerians and Afghans, clearly wish to defy those who seek to murder,  mutilate and incarcerate them.

Tony Blair said in Baghdad in December:

"On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and on the other side people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq. Our response should be to stand alongside the democrats."

Blair is absolutely right. It is shocking that so few democratic governments support the Iraqi people. Where are French and German and Spanish protests against the terror being inflicted on voters in Iraq? And it is shocking that around the world there is not wider admiration of, assistance to and moral support (and more) for the Iraqi people. The choice is clear: movement towards democracy in Iraq or a new nihilism akin to fascism - Islamist fascism.

William Shawcross's most recent book is Allies: the United States, Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq

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