Let's here it for Operation Iraqi Freedom!!
Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq
Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq
By William Booth and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 28, 2003; Page A20
SAMARRA, Iraq -- U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.
The decision to deny Iraqis a direct role in selecting municipal governments is creating anger and resentment among aspiring leaders and ordinary citizens, who say the U.S.-led occupation forces are not making good on their promise to bring greater freedom and democracy to a country dominated for three decades by Saddam Hussein.
The go-slow approach to representative government in at least a dozen provincial cities is especially frustrating to younger, middle-class professionals who say they want to help their communities emerge from postwar chaos and to let, as one put it, "Iraqis make decisions for Iraq."
"They give us a general," said Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for mayor until that election was canceled last week. "What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city."
The most recent order to stop planning for elections was made by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of
Iraq. It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.
In the capital, Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections for a city government, but have said they are forming neighborhood councils that at some point will play a role in the selection of a municipal government.
L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator of Iraq, said in an interview that there is "no blanket prohibition" against self-rule. "I'm not opposed to it, but I want to do it a way
that takes care of our concerns. . . . Elections that are held too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very carefully."
Iraqi critics of the policy shift say the American and British forces are primarily hurting themselves by smothering aspiring leaders who would benefit from the chance to work more closely with Westerners. In addition, they say the occupation authorities are fostering a dependent, passive mindset among Iraqis and leaving no one but themselves to blame for the crime, faltering electricity and general misrule Iraqis see in their daily lives.
Sattar, the would-be candidate in Samarra, said: "The new mayors do not have to be perfect. But I think that by allowing us to establish our own governments, many of the problems today would be solved. If you ask most Iraqis today if they have a government, they will tell you, no, what we have is an occupation, and that is a dangerous thing for the people to think."
Occupation authorities initially envisioned the creation of local assemblies, composed of several hundred delegates who would represent a city or town's tribes, clergy, middle class, women and ethnic groups. Those delegates would select a mayor and city council.
That process was employed successfully in the northern city of Kirkuk, but U.S. civilian and military occupation officials now say postwar chaos has left Iraq unprepared to stage popular elections in most cities.
"In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win," Bremer said. "It's often the best-organized who win, and the best-organized right now are the former Baathists and to some extent the Islamists." Bremer was referring to members of Hussein's Baath Party and religiously oriented political leaders.
Bremer and other U.S. officials are fearful that Islamic leaders such as Moqtada Sadr, a young Shiite Muslim cleric popular on the streets of Baghdad, and Ayatollah
Mohammed Bakir Hakim, leader of the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would be best positioned to field winning candidates.
Bremer promises that as soon as an Iraqi constitution is written and a national census is taken, local and national elections will follow. But that process could take months.
Ten weeks into the occupation, the cities and towns outside of Baghdad are largely administered by former Iraqi military and police officers and people who had close ties to the Baath Party. Iraqi generals and police colonels, for example, are now mayors of a dozen cities, including Samarra, Najaf, Tikrit, Balad and Baqubah.
The U.S. military contends that these people have been vetted and were not in leadership positions under the old government or associated with crimes it committed.
In Najaf last week, several hundred demonstrators took to the streets to demand elections and the removal of Mayor Abdul Munim Abud, a former artillery colonel. The protesters' banners read: "Canceled elections are evidence of bad intentions" and "O America, where are promises of freedom, elections, and democracy?"
At Friday prayers in Najaf, Sadr told the faithful at the shrine of Imam Ali, "I call for free elections that will represent all Iraqi opinion, far away from the influence of those who have intervened."
In Samarra, a two-hour drive north of Baghdad, the selection of a new mayor and city council by delegates was postponed twice, and finally canceled late last week.
"There will be no elections for the foreseeable future," said Sgt. Jeff Butler of the U.S. Army's 418th Civil Affairs Battalion from Kansas City, Mo., which is charged with
Butler said the city had been planning a caucus to pick a mayor when the order came down from Maj. Gen. Odierno. "He said, basically, stop," Butler said.
A timetable for elections in Samarra, Butler said, "is six months at least, but I'm just guessing."
Butler said he sympathized with Iraqis who are upset over the cancellation of the elections. "We would like to see some kind of democratic system, too," he said. But for now, he said, the Iraqis need to be satisfied with "baby steps."
Like almost all of the Army civil affairs soldiers in Iraq, Butler and his six-man team do not speak Arabic, and are confronted with a bewildering environment in Samarra that includes seven major and 14 minor tribal sheiks -- plus Muslim clergy and a more secular middle class that is trying to steer clear of rule by either the religious leaders or the tribes.
The current mayor of Samarra is Shakir Mahmud Mohammad, a retired general in the Iraqi army, who came into power here in April as U.S. forces arrived in the city.
Mohammad was selected by a council representing the seven major tribes in and around Samarra, and by most accounts did an admirable job keeping order in the city in the postwar weeks.
Mohammad, whose brother was executed by Hussein, now runs the city with the help of another brother and another former army commander, who serve as his deputies. Butler described Mohammad as "a very personable guy, with a decent amount of legitimacy, and he is basically somebody we thought we can work with."
But many citizens in Samarra, which has a large middle class and a large drug manufacturing plant, and is unusually prosperous for an Iraqi town, have complained about Mohammad.
In Hussein's home town of Tikrit, the American in charge is Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell, whose mission is not to establish democracy in the region, but to hunt down
remnants of the former government and others who are attacking U.S. troops.
That is understandable, said Nabel Darwish Mohamed, the mayor of nearby Balad, who is a former colonel in the Iraqi police corps. "But the American soldiers must understand that security comes also from giving the people their own leaders, their own powers. That will calm things down, I think."
Mohammad added, "Fine, we embrace the Americans, we want to see the security. But we want them to move aside and let us have our own voices. We have waited a long time for this and we are growing tired of the waiting, okay?"
Chandrasekaran reported from Baghdad.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
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