Sunday, January 30, 2005

All's Pretty Quiet on the Eastern Front

Christopher Allbritton, the free-lancer in Baghdad who writes Back to Iraq 3.0, has been giving regular updates of the progress of the voting in Iraq today, and so far the violence has not met with the dire expectations many of us had (if you can call his so-far count of 9 suicide bombings with 20 dead not dire). Many Iraqis are voting for the candidates endorsed by Ayatollah Sistani (List 169). In fact, there seems to be an almost upbeat optimism there. He puts some of it down to the "draconian" (his description) measures taken by Allawi to circumscribe movement today, and expresses his reservations about the lasting effects one such day could have:

"Today's highly restrictive measures are untenable, of course, and no one can live like this for long, but for a day, the insurgency was kept at bay."
He sums up his measure of the voting this way:

"My friend Mitch and I were discussing this and regardless of who wins in the polls, the Iraqis won here and proved themselves—for a day, at least—stronger than the insurgency. And that's a very big symbolic victory. A huge one, in fact, and Iraqis should take great pride in themselves. When they had the opportunity, they stood up and were counted. The real losers were the Sunnis who didn't participate. They missed a golden opportunity to take part in a process that, while flawed, were the only game in town. I don't know what's going to happen next, and a civil war may still erupt, but if it does, the elected government—one elected by Shi'a and Kurds, for the most part—will have the moral high ground in it."
However, over at Empire Notes, Rahul Mahajan reports that Sistani has more or less condemned any of his followers who fail to vote for his endorsed list:

"Ayatollah Sistani, the acknowledged spiritual leader of the vast majority of Iraq's Shi'a population, has stopped being coy. In the past, he has soft-pedaled his endorsement of the United Iraqi Alliance (headed by the Islamist parties SCIRI and Dawa) by such locutions as saying he "blesses" the UIA slate but "supports" all "patriotic" slates.
Now, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's reporters in Basra, he has come out openly:

Hayder al-Safi, spokesman for Sistani’s representative in Basra, Ali Abdul-Hakim al-Safi, said on January 28 that Shia leaders are urging people to vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, listed as number 169 on the ballot sheet. "Anyone that votes for List no. 169, I will answer for them before God,” said al-Safi, quoting the words of Sistani. “And anyone who will vote for other lists will answer before God."
I don't know. I feel I am hanging on to pessimism for the sake of being right here, and I don't want to play that game with people's lives. If they can make this work, in spite of the mess the US facilitated over there, then let's give them as much support as we can. But I'm too used to being burned by media and politicians on both sides of the ocean to expect miracles.

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