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Will Vote For Food

The American media is painting Iraqi voters as flush with the thrill of casting a ballot. However, some other more pressing motivations lay behind their rush to the polls.
 
 
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United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.

– "U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote," The New York Times , Sept. 4, 1967

In all the media hoopla over Sunday's "election" in Iraq, a few details got missed.

The powerful and influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) is not buying the idea that there was some great democratic breakthrough with this vote. AMS spokesman Muhammad al-Kubaysi responded to the election by saying, "The elections are not a solution to the Iraqi problem, because this problem is not an internal dispute to be resolved through accords and elections. It lies in the presence of a foreign power that occupies this country and refuses even the mere scheduling of the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq."

"We have consistently argued," continued al-Kubaysi, "that elections can only occur in a democracy that enjoys sovereignty. Our sovereignty is incomplete. Our sovereignty is usurped by foreign forces that have occupied our land and hurt our dignity. These elections ... are a means of establishing the foreign forces in Iraq and keeping Iraq under the yoke of occupation. They should have been postponed."

Al-Kubaysi likewise raised grave concerns about low turnout in Sunni areas such as Baghdad, Baquba and Samarra, and stated flatly that the deep secrecy that shrouded the candidates themselves invalidated the process. "The voter goes to the polling stations not knowing who he is voting for in the first place," he said. "There are more than 7,700 candidates, and I challenge any Iraqi voter to name more than half a dozen. Their names have not been announced but have been kept secret. Elections should never have been held under these present circumstances."

The American media is painting these newly minted Iraqi voters as flush with the thrill of casting a ballot. In truth, however, some other more pressing motivations lay behind their rush to the polling places. Dahr Jamail, writing for Inter Press Service, reported that "Many Iraqis had expressed fears before the election that their monthly food rations would be cut if they did not vote. They said they had to sign voter registration forms in order to pick up their food supplies. Just days before the election, 52 year-old Amin Hajar, who owns an auto garage in central Baghdad, had said, 'I'll vote because I can't afford to have my food ration cut. If that happened, me and my family would starve to death.'"

"Will Vote For Food" is not a spectacular billboard for the export of democracy.

"Where there was a large turnout," continued Jamail, "the motivation behind the voting and the processes both appeared questionable. The Kurds up north were voting for autonomy, if not independence. In the south and elsewhere Shias were competing with Kurds for a bigger say in the 275-member national assembly. In some places like Mosul the turnout was heavier than expected. But many of the voters came from outside, and identity checks on voters appeared lax. Others spoke of vote-buying bids. More than 30 Iraqis, a U.S. soldier, and at least 10 British troops died Sunday. Hundreds of Iraqis were also wounded in attacks across Baghdad, in Baquba 50 [kilometers] northeast of the capital as well as in the northern cities Mosul and Kirkuk."

Perhaps the most glaring indication that this "election" did little to settle the bloody reality in Iraq came three days before the ballots were cast. In a letter to Congress dated Jan. 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the 'D' word.

In the last three years, PNAC has gotten every single thing it placed on its wish list back in 2000. This is why its letter is so disturbing. The ideological architects of this disastrous Iraq invasion are stating flatly that the American military is being bled dry, and that the ranks must be replenished before that military can be used to push into Iran, Syria and the other targeted nations. The 'D' word screams out from between the lines. All the lip service paid to the Iraq elections by these people does not contrast well with their cry for more warm bodies to feed into the meat grinder.

Lyndon Johnson was excited about voter turnout in Vietnam in September 1967. Eight years, three presidents and millions of dead people later, that excitement proved to have been wretchedly illusory. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever, to believe that the Iraq election we witnessed this weekend will bring anything other than death and violence to the people of that nation and our soldiers who move among them. History repeats itself only when we are stupid enough to miss the lessons learned in past failures. The wheel is coming around again.

Author's Note: The New York Times article on the Vietnam election in 1967 was first located and published by patachon on the DailyKos blog forum.

This article is excerpted from a longer version available on TruthOut.org.