Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Give Iraqis the Election They Want: "Led by clerics demanding real democracy, the protests have strongly raised this question: What right does the United States have to tell people that they cannot be allowed to rule themselves? With the stated reasons for the U.S. invasion — the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al Qaeda — now a proven fraud, the Bush administration was left with one defense: It was bringing democracy to this corner of the Mideast. If we now fail to promptly return full sovereignty to the Iraqis, inconvenient as that outcome may be, the invasion will stand exposed as nothing more than old-fashioned imperial plunder of the region's oil riches — and the continued occupation could devolve into civil war.

"The Shiites do not require divine revelation to see through the U.S. plan to perpetuate its influence through an opaque process of caucuses designed, implemented and run by Washington and its Iraqi appointees. It is just colonial politics as usual. That's why the conservative Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the revered cleric of Iraq's Shiites (who make up 60% of the country), is requesting a transparent one-person, one-vote election.

"The U.S., however, has not agreed. And a top Sistani aide recently suggested that President Bush's opposition to a universal ballot election stemmed from a fear that his own reelection efforts could be hurt if the invasion he launched resulted in another Mideast country where ayatollahs played a major political role. Or, perhaps worse from the president's point of view, an independent government might be so bold as to ask the U.S. to pull out its troops, hand back control of its oil and dismiss billions in reconstruction contracts with corporations like Halliburton."

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