The most prominent Sunnis who won the election were disqualified on Friday on suspicions they were high-ranking officials in Saddam's Baath Party. The decision to oust the most prominent Sunni winners has put the whole country on edge:
Saleh Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician, said that the ruling would agitate already frustrated Sunnis who are questioning the validity of the elections.
"The streets will tell you their reaction," Mutlaq said.
The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who protested the election on Friday did so before the disqualification of these candidates. It is unclear how the already aggrieved masses of Sunnis will react to this latest development.
What is clear is how the Bush administration has already begun to distance itself from the Iraqi elections. The last time the administration mentioned it was almost a week ago, during the President's weekly radio address. When he did comment on the election, he called these Sunnis "enemies of freedom." Labeling them "rejectionists," he claimed that they "miss the privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein" and that they would soon be "persuaded" to support the new Iraqi government. Such rhetoric is unproductive. It only serves to isolate those groups, set them on the defensive, and increase tensions not only internally in Iraq, but also between Iraqi leaders and the U.S. government.
As much as Bush wants to paint these groups as dissatisfied remnants of an old regime which will fade from power, the reality is that Sunni groups have aligned themselves with a broad coalition which challenged the legitimacy of the newly elected government. Over 35 groups have signed on to a movement called "Maram", a movement which rejects the election results and desires a new election. Iraq the Model has more information:
This joint effort between Sunni Islamists, Sunni and Shia seculars as well as communists in spite of the great differences in their points of view reflects the depth of the worries shared by those parties about having one party monopolize power.
Politicians and demonstrators expressed their disappointment with the performance of the election commission and the violations of the UIA, some felt that the Sunni had been tricked into the political process and think there are two theories, either the international community knew what was going to happen and closed an eye on it or it was also fooled by the other parties [UIA] now the world has to either stand on their (the Sunni) side or confront them. In general, most of the reactions are angry.
However, there's still hope that the international community will help Iraq investigate what happened and find the truth. On the other hand, Radio Sawa reported that senior election commission official Farid Ayar submitted his resignation to PM Jafari. Ayar explained his decision in a statement he gave to al-Hayat newspaper in which he said "Time has changed and so did the principles and ethics that used to govern our work".
Beyond the purple fingers, beyond the false claims of progress, there exists a nation on the cusp of civil war. Shiite and Sunni leaders, we learn, have started forming sectarian armies to patrol their regions. The Kurds already have their own armed force. The religious Shiite group which had the best showing in the election is refusing to acknowledge Sunni complaints, urging the county to move on in forming a "national unity" government. That same group urging "national unity" has refused to install anyone except a member of their own religious party as Prime Minister.
A nation on the cusp of civil war.
As Iraq decends more and more into chaos, we will hear less and less about it. The protests of thousands will be reduced to a single new bite on the evening news. The fact that the factions have begun arming themselves for civil war will be slipped into the end of an article, an afterthought. And our President will mark progress not by how many Iraqis lay dead in the streets, but by how many troops he'll bring home right before the midterm elections. "Victory" in Iraq is not victory for Iraq; rather, it's a victory for this Presidency. It's being victorious in this great charade. It's tricking America into believing Iraq is a successful democracy, when we've left the nation in shambles.
So, while Bush may want us to bask in the glow of purple fingers and move on, some of us will not. Some of us will stay, and follow the true consequences of this election. It will be complex, confusing, and depressing, but we will force ourselves to look. Why? Why not just move on, declare "mission accomplished"? Because we promised the Iraqis hope. We promised them that this thing called democracy would leave them safer and happier. Where is that hope now? What hope exists if we ignore the reality in Iraq, and instead embrace the faux perception that this election healed the nation's centuries-old wounds?
We promised the Iraqi people hope. Not civil war. Now, how do we save this nation?