War Notes

River, the author of Baghdad Burning, started her blog in August of 2003 with the affecting introduction, “I'm female, Iraqi and 24. I survived the war. That's all you need to know. It's all that matters these days anyway.” With hindsight, what stands out is not the implicit sigh of resignation, but a strange hopefulness: survived the war. Past tense, as if the war were over. Of course, it was merely the shock and awe that were done; the war had only just begun.

River survives still, dispatching from her home in Iraq, when sporadic electricity, internet access, and safety allow. If you have not read Baghdad Burning, I urgently recommend you do so. Whatever you think you know of this war, and whatever you think you know of Iraqis and life in Iraq—before the war and now—I assure you that River will inform your perspective, and likely change your mind.

And when you wonder what Iraqis think about something like, for example, a report saying no WMDs were found, that the entire rationale for the mayhem with which they’ve been living going on two years now was bogus, River is there to offer her reaction. It’s not pretty, but I think it’s important to understand just what a huge fucking mess we’ve actually made.

Speaking of which, her recent post on the upcoming elections confirms what any reasonable person with a scrap of sense already suspects; the Iraqi elections and well and truly fucked. But the scope and variety of the fucked-upness is actually astounding:

There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome.

American politicians seem to be very confident that Iraq is going to come out of these elections with a secular government. How is that going to happen when many Shia Iraqis are being driven to vote with various fatwas from Sistani and gang? Sistani and some others of Iranian inclination came out with fatwas claiming that non-voters will burn in the hottest fires of the underworld for an eternity if they don't vote (I'm wondering- was this a fatwa borrowed from right-wing Bushies during the American elections?). So someone fuelled with a scorching fatwa like that one- how will they vote? Secular? Yeah, right.

Holy shit. I mean, holy flippin’ shit, right? Iranians buying Iraqi ballots? (Why are ballots being issued so early, anyway?!) Women’s voting rights easily snagged away from them? You know, before the war, women’s rights were pretty okay in Iraq. Now even non-religious women are wearing headscarves to avoid being shot by religious militants. And, to boot, many of them now won’t be able to vote. I’m sure they’re so glad we’ve brought “democracy” to Iraq.

And this is none too encouraging, either:
It feels like just about everyone who can is going to leave the country before the elections. They say the borders between Syria and Jordan might be closed a week before elections so people are rushing to get packed and get out. Many families are simply waiting for their school-age children to finish mid-year finals or college exams so they can leave.
These are the realities of the Iraq War. Not rose petals and candies, but a corrupt, discriminatory voting system and a country so riddled with turmoil that people want to leave their homes. I know it’s tempting to make comparative jokes (why should they have it any better than we do?!), but there’s nothing funny about it when you consider that they suffer these injustices against a backdrop of death, destruction, and indiscriminate torture…perpetrated by us.

Today we rewarded the architect of the entire plot with another four years to scheme. And here’s the bitter irony: he was re-elected because he was seen by a majority as the man who could best keep us safe. But what he has done to undermine our security in the last four years will take generations to undo—if that’s even a possibility.

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