The following is an archived copy of a message sent to the CASI Analysis List run by Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of Cambridge Solidarity with Iraq (CASI).

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [CASI Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi-analysis] RE: CASI-analysis digest, Vol 1 #48 - 1 msg

[ This message has been sent to you via the CASI-analysis mailing list ]

Dear List,

A note on the article forwarded by Colin.

When a journalist writes:

"For most Iraqis, choosing a president or prime minister, even indirectly, is
an alien concept",

it is as well to take what he writes with some scepticism. It is true that
most Iraqis have not elected a president or prime minister, but most know the
meaning of elections and politics. There is no need to recall Iraq's political
history or the suppression and defiance of the country's opposition parties. A
look at politics under the Saddam Hussain would suffice. Membership of the
Ba'th Party was open to virtually all Iraqis (including Kurds), but most
rejected it at high costs to themselves, such as arousing suspicion of
opposition, losing job opportunities, and harshers forms of persecution. Those
Iraqis are proud of the lengths they went in resisting pressure to become
members of the party or one of its organs. Even many who joined the Ba'th
would tell you of their passive resistance from inside the party organisation.
People would also say that they took a risk in not turning out to participate
in Saddam's elections charade. More widely, the emergence of community-based
politics was a rejection of the politics of dictatorship. It is not that
people do not know how to practice politics, but that their options were and
are limited.

Under the occupation, the same is true. To join one of the US-established
institutions, you are required to sign up to certain notions such as accepting
that 9 April was "liberation" day, and accepting the dictats and the
legitimacy of the occupation. This is the same practice as under Saddam, and
most Iraqis shun the sham institutions that are based on lies and brute force.
The practice within those institutions is then of little relevance to the
concept of democracy. However, the article builds a rosy picture of the local
councils, many of which up and down the country have been exposed as corrupt,
self-serving and sometimes worse. The article correctly notes that the
councillors are selected to "serve as liaisons to the U.S.-led Coalition
Provisional Authority", which is not necessarily dishonourable. People would
need to "liaise" with occupation authorities in some starkly differing ways.
Yet, this is not infant democracy. Indeed, if this was the case, why are early
elections being resisted?

The US seems keen to hand over nominal power to compliant Iraqis in order to
legitimise and legalise its continuing military presence and political
domination. It will do so by manipulating both local politics and also those
expatriates who had been in their pay.

A word on Ayatollah Sistani. He does not command such respect simply because
of who he is, but mainly because of what he does and says. In other words, it
is important to see the influence of his political ideas (i.e. non-cooperation
with the occupation, Iraqi unity and elections as the basis of sovereignty) as
a reflection of public opinion, not of sectarian identity. We should beware of
intimations that the US is gradually constructing democracy in order to save
Iraqis from the clutch of obscurantist thought.

Finally, I will add a personal note of my own. I think that Colin's comment
about Iraqis being engaged in a "mature dialogue" is patronising.


>===== Original Message From =====
>Send CASI-analysis mailing list submissions to
>To subscribe or unsubscribe via the World Wide Web, visit
>or, via email, send a message with subject or body 'help' to
>You can reach the person managing the list at
>When replying, please edit your Subject line so it is more specific
>than "Re: Contents of CASI-analysis digest..."
>Today's Topics:
>   1. casi-news digest, Vol 1 #31 - 1 msg
>Message: 1
>Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004 12:01:01 +0000
>Subject: [casi-analysis] casi-news digest, Vol 1 #31 - 1 msg
>This is an automated compilation of submissions to
>Articles for inclusion in this daily news mailing should be sent to Please include a full reference to the source of
the article.
>Today's Topics:
>   1. A article from:
>-- __--__--
>Message: 1
>Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2004 05:26:35 -0500 (EST)
>Subject: A article from:
>You have been sent this message from as a courtesy of=
> Personal Message:
> Dear list members,
>I met one of these councillors just over a week ago.  Since, I have met a n=
>umber of university administrators, elected by their peers.
>Both of these meetings have encouraged me, giving me a strong hope that Ira=
>qis are now engaged in a mature dialogue about their country's future, and =
>will not accept plans that are not in their interests.
> An Iraqi Council With Clout
> By Ariana Eunjung Cha
>  BAGHDAD, Feb. 17 -- President Bush made sure to set aside time to see the=
>m during his quickie Thanksgiving Day trip to Iraq. Secretary of State Coli=
>n L. Powell scheduled a meeting with them when he was last here. So did Com=
>merce Secretary Donald L. Evans.
> In a country in search of new leadership, the 37 members of the Baghdad Ci=
>ty Council are quickly becoming influential, if still behind-the-scenes, pl=
>ayers. They may not have the name recognition of a grand ayatollah or a wea=
>lthy exile, but they have one very important thing going for them: They are=
> the closest thing Iraq has to a democratically elected representative body=
> with real clout.
> Selected by their neighbors to serve as liaisons to the U.S.-led Coalition=
> Provisional Authority, they are doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers an=
>d other highly educated citizens. Few had been involved in politics before,=
> but now they speak out as much about national issues as local ones.
> With 41/2 months remaining before the scheduled transfer of Iraqi sovereig=
>nty from the U.S.-led occupation authority to an interim national governmen=
>t, the Baghdad council is a wild card. Occupation officials and Iraq's U.S.=
>-appointed Governing Council had agreed on an elaborate plan for creating a=
> transitional assembly through provincial caucuses, saying direct elections=
> were not possible before the June 30 handover date, but most council membe=
>rs have since withdrawn support for the plan. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, =
>Iraq's most influential religious leader, has said that nothing short of fu=
>ll elections could produce a government that was representative of the coun=
>try's population.
> The United Nations appears ready to broker a compromise, with elections he=
>ld sooner than occupation officials wanted but later than Sistani demanded.=
> The Baghdad City Council still has not said where it stands on this questi=
>on, but its members have been quietly surveying constituents and hope to is=
>sue a statement that they say will reflect the true views of the people.
> In the seven months since the council was formed, it has become a symbol o=
>f hope for democracy in a country that for the most part has known only aut=
>horitarian rule and that has been ravaged by violence since the fall Presid=
>ent Saddam Hussein. The council's greatest strength and greatest weakness, =
>say those who have worked with it, is its inexperience. Many members have o=
>nly vague notions about what a campaign or poll or caucus is, but that mean=
>s the type of democracy they practice is very academic, very pure.
> Taking Up Challenges
> "They aren't afraid to challenge anyone or anything, and that is a good si=
>gn," said Lt. Col. Joe Rice, an Army reservist and former mayor of Glendale=
>, Colo., population 5,000, who is advising the City Council here.
> The council has pushed the occupation authority to reconsider its vision f=
>or a foreign investment law. It publicly challenged the Governing Council b=
>ecause it was appointed, not elected. And it drafted a list of reconstructi=
>on projects that served as the foundation for a report presented at a confe=
>rence of donors last year in Madrid.
> When the Japanese government recently invited a delegation from Iraq to me=
>et with the prime minister, it went to the Baghdad City Council, not the Go=
>verning Council. "We decided when we initiated contact with the Iraqi peopl=
>e we wanted to meet with the City Council because they were somewhat democr=
>atically elected. That was important," said Matsu Bayashi, first secretary =
>at the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad.
> The most  telling sign that the City Council had arrived came in November,=
> when the occupation authority unveiled its plan for the formation of an in=
>terim Iraqi government that would take power this summer. Under the complic=
>ated system, councils in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, or governorates, woul=
>d have a key part in the initial stage of the process of picking an interim=
> national legislature. The legislature would choose a prime minister or pre=
>sident -- or two or three -- and appoint the rest of the government.
> Although the plan is now in flux, members of the Baghdad City Council are =
>poised to play a prominent role in the next government -- perhaps as part o=
>f an expanded Governing Council that might rule the country as it prepares =
>for elections, and most definitely, they say, as candidates in eventual ele=
> For most Iraqis, choosing a president or prime minister, even indirectly, =
>is an alien concept. Most have lived under only two leaders -- Saddam Husse=
>in and the American civil administrator, L. Paul Bremer, both of whom were =
>forced upon them. So when U.S. troops took to the streets of Baghdad this s=
>pring and summer with bullhorns and fliers and invited the people to meetin=
>gs where they could elect representatives, many came out of curiosity, if n=
>othing else.
> Like many members of the Baghdad council, Ali Haidary said he came to vote=
>, not to run. But someone nominated him for a spot on his neighborhood coun=
>cil and he won, and he felt it was his responsibility to serve his people.
> "When I came home that day, I told my family I became a member of the loca=
>l city hall. My family was amazed. What happened? they asked," recalled Hai=
>dary, 47, now City Council chairman. More important, they wondered: What do=
>es that mean?
> Haidary is a serious, meticulous man who studied mechanical engineering in=
> college and,  like many other Iraqi men his age,  spent time working for t=
>he government and time in the army. He now owns an air-conditioning repair =
>company in the middle-class area of Al Adl.
> In the weeks following his election to the Al Adl Neighborhood Council, Ha=
>idary was elected to represent Al Adl on the Mansoor District Council, whic=
>h in turn voted him onto the Baghdad City Council. In July, he was elected =
>vice chairman of the City Council. Since being chosen as chairman in Januar=
>y, he has been the top man in a political system that comprises 88 individu=
>al councils and more than 750 representatives.
> His fellow members of the Baghdad City Council range in age from twenties =
>to late sixties and include sheiks and religious leaders as well as citizen=
>s who say they consider themselves secular. Saeb Sideeq Gailani is director=
> general of Medical City, the largest hospital complex in the country; Adna=
>n Abdul Sahib Hassan, 53, is a former flight attendant for Iraqi Airways an=
>d was an officer in the old Iraqi army; Fatima Hassan Miqdadi, 41, is a tea=
>cher who spent almost all of her twenties in prison because she was suspect=
>ed of helping the Dawa party, a prominent Islamic political group that oppo=
>sed Hussein's Baathists.
> The council got off to a rocky start when it first met on July 7. Members =
>could barely agree on how to conduct the meetings, not to mention what issu=
>es they should address.
> In the beginning, the council members focused on issues in their neighborh=
>oods. Haidary, for instance, helped reopen a government shopping center tha=
>t provided more than 200 jobs. He also got funding to repair 20 of the 22 s=
>chools in his area that had not been scheduled for reconstruction. The $480=
>,000 for the schools came from U.S. military commanders, humanitarian group=
>s and the Japanese Embassy.
> "I believe the biggest crime Saddam committed was neglecting education," H=
>aidary said. "The Iraqi student in the past was one of the most intellectua=
>l, the most clever. But because of Saddam, our students have now reached th=
>e lowest level."
> A Growing Visibility
> The council members' successes and their cooperation with the occupation a=
>uthority,  have made them targets for insurgents. Haidary's Al Adl council =
>offices have been attacked several times, and one of his fellow council mem=
>bers was shot and killed. Two other members of the neighborhood councils in=
> Baghdad have died in ambushes. In December, a bomb went off in front of on=
>e City Council member's house. Hebrew language professor Ali Hussein Amiri'=
>s 20-year-old son had walked out the door and found a pen on the steps. Whe=
>n he picked it up, it blew his hand off.
> As the months have passed, the council has sought to expand its role. Memb=
>ers have challenged occupation officials on a number of issues, asking for =
>control of the city budget and demanding authority to inspect the progress =
>of reconstruction projects.
> "We shouldn't have to go to CPA for everything we do," Nashat Husseini arg=
>ued at one meeting, using the initials of the Coalition Provisional Authori=
>ty. "We should be able to do it ourselves." He said too many Iraqis -- othe=
>r than themselves -- are as afraid of being punished by the Americans for c=
>hallenging authority as they were of Hussein.
> In November and December, the United States, Japan and Turkey separately i=
>nvited the Baghdad City Council to visit.
> Meanwhile, the Iraqi Governing Council, which had all but ignored the Bagh=
>dad City Council some months ago, recently began sending representatives to=
> its weekly meetings. Senior occupation officials, including those in charg=
>e of electricity and reconstruction contracting, have also come to seek the=
> representatives' advice.
> The biggest question for the City Council remains what members think about=
> how a sovereign Iraq should be created. The committee assigned to look at =
>the issue remains divided over a caucus system or direct elections.
> Council member Miqdadi said that she supports Sistani's call for direct el=
>ections and that people should think of him not as a religious figure but a=
>s a scholar. "He studied international relations and he knows about politic=
>s. We believe very much that his thoughts are with the times," she said.
> Basim Salih Yaaqubi, 39, a financier who serves on the council, disagrees.=
> Direct elections, he says, are not practical at this time for many reasons=
>, including the fact that the political system is still developing and that=
> security is so poor that there is a danger polling places would be attacke=
> But both quickly said that if the council's survey shows the public's opin=
>ion differs from theirs, they will support the people. "In democracy, that =
>is how things should work," Yaaqubi said, as if quoting from a textbook. "Y=
>ou go with the majority."
>Would you like to send this article to a friend? Go to
>Visit today for the latest in:
>News -
>Politics -
>Sports -
>Entertainment -
>Travel -
>Technology -
>Want the latest news in your inbox? Check out's e-mail n=
>=A9 2004 The Washington Post Company
>End of casi-news Digest
>Sent via the CASI-analysis mailing list
>To unsubscribe, visit
>All postings are archived on CASI's website at
>End of CASI-analysis Digest

Dr Kamil Mahdi
University of Exeter

Sent via the CASI-analysis mailing list
To unsubscribe, visit
All postings are archived on CASI's website at

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]