Iraq: No Elections Will be Credible While Occupation Continues


Iraq has a long history of civilization that has contributed both knowledge and wisdom to humanity. For many centuries, Islam also immunized Iraq against religious or sectarian strife and protected its population from the oppression that peoples of the ancient world had been subjected to. Generation after generation of Iraqis succeeded in maintaining peaceful coexistence among their diverse sects and races, despite the hardships and challenges they faced. It is by virtue of this cohesion that Iraq managed to rise up again and put its house in order in the wake of every calamity.

In recent times, one of the most difficult periods has been the past 35 years, during which Iraq was subjected to one-party rule by a minority that dragged the country through a series of misadventures, with heavy losses for the Iraqi people. During the last chapter of that painful era, Iraqis were for many years punished with sanctions that caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, most of them children. The sanctions ended with an invasion, followed by an occupation by US and British troops, in total complete contravention of international law and in defiance of the UN. The invaders resorted to pretexts that soon proved to be false, including the lie about weapons of mass destruction.

Things became much worse under occupation, which has delivered none of the promised dividends of democracy, freedom, security and prosperity. Instead, Iraqis have been living in fear, poverty, oppression and a lack of freedom.

The occupation troops have resorted to excessive force, indiscriminate killing and collective punishment of the population. They have besieged entire towns, storming into them, instilling fear and horror among residents and destroying their homes. Iraqis have been humiliated and stripped of their basic human rights; they have been subjected to brutal and ghastly forms of torture, as the infamous Abu Ghraib prison case and the British troops' abuse of detainees in Basra have shown.

In the meantime there has been a scandalous failure by successive Iraqi governments to attend to the basic needs of the population. There has been a continuous rise in unemployment, which has been used to force young men to join the military and security establishments, which in turn throw them into the furnace of a destructive, yet futile, war. Many other young men find themselves drawn into drug trafficking because Iraq has become a theater for this sinister industry although it had until the invasion been one of the few countries in the world that had no significant drugs problem.

The conduct and motivation of the occupation authorities were suspect right from the start, when they encouraged the organized theft of public properties; left weapon dumps unguarded; dissolved the Iraqi army and replaced it with militias whose agendas are incompatible with the collective interests of the Iraqi people; and when it introduced sectarian and racial quotas in political life, paving the way for serious sectarian and racial conflict that has been exploited by some political groups for their own exclusive ends.

This is what has become of Iraq under occupation. The US and its allies bear full legal and moral responsibility for all this: they are the ones who instigated it by illegally invading Iraq.

This is Iraq's reality today. It goes without saying that the continuation of this dreadful situation will have very serious repercussions not only for Iraq but for the region and the entire world.

What is the solution? The cause of the problem, the source of the trouble, is the occupation which has brought all this upon Iraq and the Iraqis. This has to be eliminated. But the US administration remains committed to its occupation and insistent on pushing ahead with a political process that is entirely without credibility.

The refusal by some Iraqi political groups and religious authorities to endorse this process is not born out of a rejection of peaceful political engagement or a decision to opt for a violent solution - as the occupation-sponsored media machine alleges - but stems from a belief in justice, freedom and independence as basic prerequisites for any genuine political process. None of these prerequisites are present, and therefore the current political process cannot provide the Iraqi people with peace and security.

The abuses witnessed during previous elections, as well as during the draft constitution referendum - which had the effect of denying the will of the majority of the Iraqis - only generate skepticism and reinforce the suspicions of those who are boycotting today's elections. Whether Iraqis take part or not, few regard these latest occupation-sponsored elections as any more free or fair than those that preceded them, and they will not help to solve the crisis facing the country.

For the political process to succeed it must proceed in a healthy environment which will take shape only when occupation comes to an end. The solution to the Iraqi problem, in the view of the Association of Muslim Scholars, is simple and logical: it is one that fully complies with international legality and would serve to reinforce it; that would put an end to the daily hemorrhage of Iraqi blood; that would lay the foundations for a state of law that protects the rights of all its citizens and seeks to secure basic human dignity; that provides an alternative to occupation, as explained in the memorandum we submitted to the United Nations and the Arab League.

This solution must be based, first, on an announcement by the US and its allies of a timetable for withdrawing their troops. Second, it would entail replacing the occupation forces with a UN force whose main task would be to fill the security void. This would be followed, thirdly, by the formation of an interim Iraqi government for six months under the supervision of the UN in order to conduct genuine parliamentary elections in which all parts of the Iraqi population would take part. Finally, the duly elected Iraqi government would take charge of the task of rebuilding the country's civil and military institutions.

Nothing will work in Iraq unless the root of the problem is addressed: the occupation must end.

Harith Sulayman al-Dari is secretary general of the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq