The Importance Of The Iraqi Election 201 By Bill Roggio
In Importance of the Election 101 we discussed the varied nature of the Iraqi insurgency and how the upcoming election gives the Iraqi government a political opportunity to cleave off the native insurgents from foreign jihadis. Today, Belmont Club looks at the attempts to provide security for the upcoming election, the refusal of American and Iraqi governments to descend into an ethnic civil war to fight the Sunni insurgency, and how elections will split moderate Sunnis from the extremists in their midst.
Through the application of unrelenting terror the insurgents have managed to discipline their own ranks into pursuing a scorched earth strategy. Since they are in no conceivable position to retrieve their former position of power in Iraq, they are bent upon thwarting its attainment by anyone else. By refusing to unleash sectarian violence against the Sunnis and taking every step to coax their participation in the elections, the US hopes may hope to drive a wedge between the average Sunni Arab and the insurgent leadership, whose willingness to expend an unlimited quantity of blood and cruelty constitutes the ultimate asymmetrical weapon.
The wedge between the moderate Sunnis and the insurgency is driven deeper. The venerable Arthur Chrenkoff, in his latest installment of Good News from Iraq, reports the largest Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has accepted the fact that elections will be held and is resigned to participating in the future government.
Iraq’s principal Sunni Muslim political party conceded Wednesday [January 12th] that its effort to delay Iraq’s parliamentary election had failed and that it was preparing a strategy to influence the elected government following the vote on Jan. 30. The Iraqi Islamic Party’s willingness to accept and engage a new government indicated a possible avenue for Sunni participation well short of the civil war feared by many analysts…Instead of trying to halt the elections, [deputy chairman of the Iraqi Islamic Party] al Samaraee said the party would focus on giving Sunnis a voice in the new government and was now reaching out to other parties and encouraging them to work together. “We are going to have to try to influence through talking with other groups,” al Samaraee said.
The circumstances of election – particularly that it will be held in a less than ideal security situation and the Sunnis may not be properly represented (a matter of their own choosing) – are often given as reasons for delay. But delaying the election hand the insurgency a resounding victory, and recent history reveals that successful elections can be held despite ongoing violence. Persevering through a violent Election Day can have a positive effect on achieving peace in the long run. The most oft-used example is El Salvador, as the 1982 election was held while large areas of the country were under the control of insurgents and there were many acts of violence and intimidation up to and on Election Day. But, as Amir Taheri points out, there is a much more apt comparison – Algeria.
Mr. Taheri explains the violent Islamic insurgency in Algeria and the violent nature of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group). The similarities between the methods of the GIA and Iraqi insurgents and terrorists of today are startling.
The unelected Algeria government was unable to cope with the GIA and was close to losing the war.
For more than 10 years the [GIA] terrorists held the initiative, attacking where and when they wished, forcing the government’s forces into a defensive posture. The terrorists specialized in mass killings. In Bin Talha, a suburb of the capital Algiers, for example, they cut the throats of some 800 people, mostly women and children, in a single night. They also targeted the ordinary personnel of the army and the police, in the hope of discouraging young Algerians from enlisting in government
Like the Iraqi insurgency, part of which desires a return to Baathist power, part of which desires a pure Islamic state, the GIA did not offer Algerian citizens a viable alternative to the Algerian government. Their goal of creating an oppressive Islamic state along the lines of Afghanistan’s Taliban was unpopular. The GIA could only intimidate their neighbors.
The Algerian terrorists never came up with anything resembling a political program. They just killed people. They killed children on their way to school. They chopped the heads of Christian monks and Muslim muftis. They murdered trade unionists, political leaders, and journalists. They captured teenage girls and forced them into temporary marriages with “the holy warriors.” They seized hostages, burned schools and hospitals, blew up factories and shops, and did all they could to disrupt the economy. At times they pulled off spectacular coups, for example by murdering the country’s president, and its most prominent trade union leader.
Iraqi insurgents are furiously working to attack Iraqi institutions and civil servants poll workers and organizers, police, soldiers, and interim government officials; and infrastructure such as the water, oil and electricity industries. In Algeria the GIA attempted to destroy the foundations of civil society. The Algerian Army was targeted to reduce its effectiveness, and democratic elections were opposed by any and all means.
They pursued two objectives.
The first was to destroy the Algerian Army by killing as many recruits as they could in the hope that this would provoke masse desertions.
The second was to prevent the holding of any elections. “Democracy means the rule of the people,” Antar Zu’abri, one of the most notorious of the terrorist chiefs, killed in action in the 1990s, liked to say. “Those who want the rule of the people defy the rule of God, which is Islam.”
Antar Zu’abri’s disgust of democracy and the power of self rule harkens us back to Osama bin Laden’s call to boycott the upcoming Iraqi election. This should come as no surprise, as both adhere to the Salafi worldview of Islamic rule. To bin Laden and Zu’abri, democracy is the tool of the infidel. Only the self-appointed defenders of the faith of al Qaeda know the true ways of
man and god.
Eventually, the Algerian government learned that democracy was the only way to sideline the insurgency. Elections gave the fence sitters – those who despised the violent tactics of the GIA but lacked the courage or means to oppose them – an opportunity to take sides in the war and empower their government to fight the brutal terrorists. Elections in Algeria effectively split the moderates from the extremists by asking them to chose sides and take responsibility for their future.
They soon realized that the terrorists lacked a significant popular base. But it was also clear that a majority of Algerians had adopted a wait-and-see attitude, hating the terrorists in secret but too frightened of them to make a clear stand against them in public. The key, therefore, was to mobilize the “silent majority” to demonstrate the isolation of the terrorists.
The most effective way to do that was to hold elections. Few people are prepared to die, and even fewer are willing to kill in support of their political opinions. But almost everyone is ready to vote. The task of a civilized society is to render the expression of political opinions easy. The terrorists made it difficult because they demanded of the people to kill and died. The Algerian leaders decided to make it easy by asking the people to vote.
The turning point came in 1995 when Algeria organized its first ever pluralist and direct presidential election. This is was not an ideal election. The candidates were little known figures that had appeared on the national political scene just a couple of years earlier. None presented a coherent political program. To make matters worse the terrorists did all they could to prevent the election. They burned down voter registration bureaus and murdered election officers. Masked men visited people in their homes and shops to warn that going to the polls would mean death.
And, yet, when polling day came it quickly became clear that the terrorists, in the forlorn attempt at stopping democracy, were, as in so many other instances in history, facing certain defeat. Never in my many years of journalism had I seen such enthusiasm for an electoral exercise anywhere in the world. The “silent majority” spoke by casting ballots, not because it particularly liked any of the candidates but because it wanted to send a message to the terrorists that they had no place in Algeria.
Elections in Iraq will not provide a quick cure to the ongoing violence. It took a decade after the first election for El Salvador to achieve peace. And although the GIA has been defeated in Algeria, its successor and al Qaeda affiliate GPSC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) is still active. Iraq will fight holdout Islamists and Baathists for years to come. But it will be the democratically elected government of Iraq, backed by the will of the people. The elections will demonstrate exactly how far outside the mainstream the insurgents are, and how far the Iraqi people will go to reject their nihilist ideology.
This content was used with the permission of Bill Roggio from The 4th Rail. You can read more of Bill’s work by clicking here.