Thursday, December 09, 2004

UN man: "Iraq elections impossible"

Interesting tidbit via Eurosavant - the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, an Algerian, has apparently told a Dutch newspaper that (speaking in a personal, not professional capacity), thanks to the current chaos on the ground in Iraq, there is no way elections can safely or legitimately run on 30th January.

Self-evident, eh? I mean, how can there be any democratic legitimacy when polling booths have to be surrounded by armed men and anyone going to vote is fully aware they are taking their life into their hands as suicide bombers and the like are liable to try and blow the hell out of them?

But it is his other comments which make interesting reading, as they go even further than Kofi Annan's statement of a few month back that the Iraq war was illegal. Again, for those of us who find the situation in Iraq appalling, this all sounds self-evident. But it is important for from whom it is coming - especially after the announcement last week that the UN is planning the most sweeping changes in its history. Is this a sign of things to come?:

"Iraq is in ruins," he declares. And: "The Americans attacked Iraq without any reason at all and installed an occupation that the Iraqis did not want. How can you speak of a liberation, if you send an army of 140,000 and devastate the cities, and the electricity and water installations."

He's also got a fair few things to say on US support for Israel to boot. Is this the start of a new, tougher UN? The main US complaint before the Iraq war was, after all, that the UN never bothered to get off its backside and actually DO anything. Is this tougher language an attempt to warn the world that the UN is about to start intervening more actively?

Eurosavant also points out an article over at Informed comment about the lack of preparation for elections, which notes that "In contrast to the 600 UN election workers in Afghanistan for the recent presidential elections, there are only 35 in Iraq, and security concerns are delaying the sending of more. Even the rules of the election haven't been completely spelled out yet."

I've mostly avoided posting about Iraq here thanks to a combination of it being too depressing and other people doing a far better job of it than I. But this election thing is central to the coalition claims of legitimacy and, coming as it does on the back of Ukraine's own election crisis, I will be intrigued to see just how keen the international community will be to help the US force these things through to the entirely arbitrary timetable they have set themselves.

Professor Cole at Informed Comment also notes that "In Kuwait, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, gave an interview in which he described the security situation as "not good." ...Al-Hakim said that elections had to be held Jan. 30, since otherwise the present Iraqi interim government would become illegitimate. Its term was set to run out by the end of January, 2005, at the latest. He implied that after fighting Saddam for decades, the Iraqis would not accept such a descent into arbitrary rule."

Democracy cannot be rushed. As Ukraine has reminded us all, the various former Soviet states are still struggling to get it right after more than a decade of nominal freedom. They need to take this slowly, or risk making the Iraqis think that maybe this democracy lark isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that a strong leader who can get the country working again may be preferable. After all, the strong leaders of America's allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan seem to be doing OK...

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