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Iraq: no self-determination, no democracy

Earlier this week, American commentators from across the political spectrum praised the Iraqi parliamentary elections. Some 60 to 65 percent turned out to vote, in some cases in defiance of bombs. The official results have yet to be announced. 

The Iraqi people should be commended for their determination to make the best of a bad situation. But we cannot let stand the re-writing of history that says that the latest elections prove that the invasion and all that followed it was worth it in the end. Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times, writes: "Former President George W Bush's gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right.... This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing." 

First and foremost, the US-led invasion was a direct negation of democracy. Self-determination is the precondition for the exercise of true democracy, and that was taken away from Iraqis. Furthermore, even with the latest elections occuring, the Iraqis still do not have self-determination: Iraqis have no say over the reality that the US occupies the country. The US says it will start to withdraw troops in August, and leave nearly entirely by the end of 2011. But the Iraqi people have had no vote over this decision.

In addition, the US incursion created the conditions for increasing sectarian divisions among different groups in the country. It appears that the initial results show a hardening of divisions in the north among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens. Such divisions in the north and other regions make it very difficult for Iraq to be a functioning state. Pro-interventionists are now worried about civil war returning after the American military leaves, but they do not take any responsibility for creating the unstable conditions. Nor do they take Iraqis' views into account (as pointed out by Eric Martin in this great post).

Having started a war that killed thousands, turned the country into rubble and cut asunder social and political ties, US politicians and pundits have the nerve to lecture the Iraqis about their future, basically saying it's their fault if all falls apart once Americans leave (even though it's not all that together right now). In its lead editorial, the New York Times said "We hope that Iraq's political leaders will show at least as much courage [as voters] in coming weeks as they negotiate the makeup of a new government." Friedman tells the Iraqis leaders: "We need to see real institution-builders emerge, including builders of a viable justice system and economy." You got that?

As the history of colonialism shows, democracy cannot be imposed on people from the barrel of an imperialist's gun.

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