Agam's Gecko
Monday, October 17, 2005

Iraqi voters
FAMILY OUTING: Young future voter proudly shows his blue finger.
Photo credit: Sooni in Baghdad

n yet another highly choreographed and scripted event staged by the Bush White House, Iraqi citizens on Saturday took another firm step in the exercise of their inalienable sovereign rights as a free people by participating in a national referendum on their country's new constitution.

Please excuse my introductory lapse into sarcasm, I couldn't resist (see next article). Of course October 15 belonged entirely to the Iraqi voters, regardless of whether they chose to accept or reject the proposed constitution. As many of the Iraqi writers I've been reading lately have pointed out, a "yes" result will be a victory, and a "no" result will also be a victory. The crucial issue was to see whether the momentum carried through from the January 30 elections would be toward democracy. It was, with an estimated 10 million citizens participating this time. The other "metric" for success was the amount of mischief the terrorist insurgency could not produce. During the January vote -- considered a great success, except by those who decided to pretend it never happened -- Saddamist and Islamist terrorists conducted 346 attacks of various kinds across the country, highlighting the sheer bravery of Iraqi democrats. On Saturday, they were able to pull off only 13 such attacks nationwide.

It will still be some days before all the counting is done and results announced, but on Saturday evening Omar at Iraq the Model reported an early assessment from the national electoral commission, giving a rough estimate of turnout for each of the 18 provinces. Less than one-third is 'low,' between one and two-thirds is 'moderate,' and more than two-thirds is 'high.' In that tally, there was one 'low,' seven 'moderate,' and nine 'high' provincial turnouts. At the time, Anbar province was still 'unknown,' but since the wire services are all stressing the large turnout in majority Sunni areas, it may well go into the 'high' column. Meaning that more than half of Iraq's provinces produced more than a two-thirds rate of voter participation.

Even the butcher Saddam had the right to vote, along with other prisoners and hospital patients, a day early -- but it is said that he failed to exercise his right. Well..... if you can't even be bothered to vote, then you have no right to complain later! Everybody knows that. Iraq grants him what he never granted them -- priceless.

Another priceless moment was witnessed by your correspondent via the AP satellite video newsfeed during Friday's advanced voting. A new Iraqi mother reclined on her hospital bed, her newborn child cradled in her right arm while she dropped her ballot into the box with her left hand. I gotta tell ya, that one choked me up.

Saturday afternoons here in the Gecko's opulent yet tasteful editing suites (if I haven't gone out of town someplace) normally sees the dish tuned to C-SPAN. But this weekend, I left it a lot of the time on the AP channel, because the feeds from Iraq were coming through quite frequently. One camera crew was just driving around Hilla, talking to people in the markets, around voting places, and just showing the town as they drove through the streets -- mainly empty but for kids playing football and small groups of people walking to or from their voting places. In all of this footage, I didn't notice any women in full burqa -- faces were open to the world, and they looked very happy. It was interesting to notice that while most women covered their hair, I also saw many who were without any head covering at all. Most people seemed to make the event into a family outing, with children going along too -- and even getting their fingers dyed, despite being too young to vote (yet!). The photo above is a detail from one of Sooni's pictures, and wai to Omar for the tip. By the way, that lovely young woman in the photo, perhaps the boy's mother, looks amazingly like Metro TV presenter Najwa Shihab!

Omar's brother Mohammed has a particularly nice way with words, and on the day before voting he wrote of his feelings, ending with a memory from Saddam's 'referendum' of three years ago. The family members had decided not to vote, but his father felt that one of them should go and vote for the family in the interests of their safety.
We looked at each other thinking who's going to volunteer to do this ugly job to protect the family. At that moment my father said "it was my generation that caused the misery we're living in so I'm the one who should do this".
I couldn't stop him and I couldn't utter a word but I felt sad for him; his sacrifice was big and I had teary eyes when I watched him taking our papers and heading out.

It is different this time father, no more 100% and a 'no' would make me happy just like a 'yes' would do and no one ever will force us to do something against our will anymore.

Tomorrow will be another day for Iraqi bravery. May God protect you my people...you have suffered so much and you will still be suffering for some time but I am sure the future will be bright.
God bless you my people and all the freedom lovers who keep sacrificing to make this world a better place.
Omar then posted something after voting, where he met some friends he hadn't seen in a while:
I met one friend on the way and when I asked him what would his vote be he said that he hasn't decided yet "if I voted yes I would be approving some articles that I don't agree with and if I voted no we would go back to where we started from..." he said and that was really refreshing because this guy who used to believe in conspiracy theories and stuff like "what America wants is what's going to happen" now feels that his vote can make a difference.
Congratulations to Iraqis for your successful and almost violence-free referendum. You have delivered another defeat to the nihilistic forces that aim to stop the unstoppable. Perhaps now the western media will refrain from endlessly trying to force you all into one of those three distinct boxes of Sunni, Shia or Kurd. It seems that many Kurds were dissatisfied with the constitution because they felt it didn't give them enough, so participation was down in some Kurdish areas. Sunni Muslim participation was very strong, and yet it already seems clear that many of those, a least in two Sunni majority provinces, voted yes. Some Shia Muslims in Baghdad were quoted as having voted 'no' despite their religious leaders' recommendations to support it. Perhaps the media can learn a bit of nuance out of this, and give up the idea that their constant recitations of the three main "groups" in Iraq qualifies them as experts.

Too many western media outlets have been far too heavily invested in Iraqi and American failure. They will accentuate every setback and virtually ignore any progress, although hopefully after this weekend, that might begin to change. Habits are hard to break though. Most accounts will dutifully report that of the six thousand and some odd polling stations across Iraq, something like 128 of them either could not open or were closed for security reasons. And they leave it at that, leaving also the impression of some number of disenfranchised citizens with nowhere to vote. But if you read the Iraqi blogs, you'd know that on polling day the government announced that any voter can vote at any polling place within his or her own province, making things even more convenient for voters. So people could actually vote somewhere closer to their homes in many cases, and if a polling place couldn't open for some reason, they could vote at any other one.

See Iraq the Model for their latest updates -- they also have some photos and a video posted, and links to many more Iraqi blogs too.

And here I wish to publish one analysis of Iraq's progress that I came across on Saturday night as well, just after the polls had closed. I just don't think any of this can be seriously challenged, or why anyone would want to disagree with any of it:
This weekend is a momentous time in the history of the Middle East. After choosing their leaders in free elections in January, the Iraqi people have gone to the polls to vote on a democratic constitution. This constitution is the result of months of debate and compromise by representatives of Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious communities. These leaders came together to produce a document that protects fundamental freedoms and lays the foundation for a lasting democracy. Earlier this week, the Iraqi people embraced changes to the text that have led to its endorsement by some Sunni leaders, as well as Kurdish and Shia leaders. Now the people of Iraq will have the final say.

By casting their ballots, the Iraqi people deal a severe blow to the terrorists and send a clear message to the world: Iraqis will decide the future of their country through peaceful elections, not violent insurgency.

This weekend's election is a critical step forward in Iraq's march toward democracy, and with each step the Iraqi people take, al Qaeda's vision for the region becomes more remote. As Iraqis prepared for this election, the world learned of a letter written by a leading terrorist explaining why Iraq is the central front in their war on civilization. Al Qaeda's number two leader, a man named Zawahiri, wrote to his chief deputy in Iraq, the terrorist Zarqawi. [...] In it, Zawahiri lays out why al Qaeda views Iraq as "the place for the greatest battle" of our day.

He says that establishing al Qaeda's dominion over Iraq is the first step towards their larger goal of imposing Islamic radicalism across the broader Middle East. Zawahiri writes: "The jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals. The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq. The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq."

This letter shows that al Qaeda intends to make Iraq a terrorist haven and a staging ground for attacks against other nations, including the United States. The letter makes equally clear that the terrorists have a problem: Their campaign of murder and mayhem is turning the people against them. The letter warns Zarqawi that, "many of your Muslim admirers amongst the common folk are wondering about your attacks on the Shia." Even al Qaeda recognizes that with every random bombing and every funeral of a child, the Muslim world sees the terrorists for what they really are: murderers at war with the Iraqi people.

These terrorists are driven by an ideology that exploits Islam to serve a violent political vision: the establishment of a totalitarian empire that denies political and religious freedom. This is why the terrorists have fought to prevent and disrupt this weekend's elections. They understand that the act of voting is a rejection of them and their distorted vision of Islam. Simply by coming out to vote, the Iraqi people have shown that they want to live in freedom, and they will not accept a return to tyranny and terror.
OK, I cheated a little bit there. I cut out one sentence that would have given my plan away. In the third paragraph, where you see [...] I removed the sentence, "We intercepted this letter, and we have released it to the public." I wanted you to read all the above without knowing who it is. And it is, of course, President Bush. His weekly radio address was carried on the AP newsfeed that same night, airing wonderfully between the raw clips of peacefully voting Iraqis. I stopped what I was doing, and listened. Why would anyone dispute this? For most people who would, it would only be due to recognising the speaker while still being afflicted with terminal BDS. I thought that offering it here, while removing that prejudicial information, might have an interesting effect on some readers.

President Bush then completed his address:
The terrorists know their only chance for success is to break our will and force us to retreat. The al Qaeda letter points to Vietnam as a model. Zawahiri says: "The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam, and how they ran and left their agents, is noteworthy." Al Qaeda believes that America can be made to run again. They are gravely mistaken. America will not run, and we will not forget our responsibilities.

In Iraq, we have brought down a murderous regime. We have stood by the Iraqi people through two elections, and we will stand by them until they have established a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. When we do, Iraq will be an ally in the war on terror and a partner for peace and moderation in the Muslim world. And because America stood firm in this important fight, our children and grandchildren will be safer and more secure.

Thank you for listening.
Transcript is here (so you know I didn't change anything), and the Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi can be downloaded here, in either English translation or Arabic original. And yes, I have heard the charges that it's an American forgery, most notably from the "Iraq expert" Juan Cole (who has never set foot in Iraq himself). I've also seen several native Arabic speakers comprehensively debunk his claims that an Egyptian Sunni Muslim would never use this or that Arabic phrasing, by pointing him to such individuals doing exactly that -- and even on Arabic websites which link to some writings of Zawahiri's own teacher! Cole is all too often just not credible, and lets his virulent anti-US mindset get in the way of his "scholarship." The letter was retrieved during an operation in Iraq. Until there is more concrete evidence than Juan Cole's contrived and partisan grasping at straws, I will treat the Zawahiri letter as authentic. It's very illuminating and well worth reading in full.


t just doesn't get much funnier, if you are one that thinks the media's antics with all things Bush and/or Iraq related are now dangerously close to self-caricature. One of the big stories last week was the few minutes of pre-event preparation via satellite link-up between Washington and Tikrit, Iraq. All the talking heads and various and sundry experts thought this would surely be their "gotcha" moment, as they spun into their script the actions of some Defense Department functionary seen running through the procedures of President Bush's Q & A with a group of soldiers waiting to speak with him. It became a huge deal before everybody actually realised that there was no evidence of any scripting of answers whatsoever. What happened was that the official in DC simply told the men and women in Tikrit the main issues that the President was interested in asking them about. The soldiers practiced passing the microphone around, deciding that if such-and-such question was asked, that was to go to this respondent, if another issue then who would be the one to reply to that. She asked that some water bottles be moved out of the camera's view, and some of the soldiers even spoke a bit on their delegated issues, just to get the feel of it. It's called being prepared folks, even Boy Scouts know about it!

But to hear the media frenzy after this was just unbelievable. It was based on nothing more than their incredible drive to believe that "A-hah, now we've caught them scripting the spontaneous answers from our troops!" There was nothing of the kind, but the networks seem to have no shame at all (and of course, the anti-Bush bloggers were on fire for days with this one). I even saw a clip of WaPo's Dana Milbank being interviewed about it on one of the big networks, and he opened the interview by ridiculing the Iraqi Defence Force officer's awkward English. The man had interjected, while speaking with Bush, that "I like you." Milbank put on a pathetic sounding Iraqi accent and did a variation of what the man said, and both he and the host got a good chuckle out of it. Pathetic.

One of the soldiers taking part in the conversation, relates his experience -- and the absolutely stupid media reaction to it -- here. But really, the funniest thing I've seen in a long time, was the way NBC's morning program decided to lead in to this "scripted choreography" nonsense. The silly air-head says something like, "But before we go to that rehearsed event with the troops, let's go and see how Francine is doing in those horrible floods in New Jersey." And we see Francine or whoever it is, clumsily paddling in her canoe from a low camera shot, telling us how tragic it all was. And while she's spinning the canoe around in one place, spending more time passing the paddle awkwardly back and forth from one side to the other than actually paddling, breathlessly telling us of the tragedy, two guys come walking through the camera shot carrying things. The water was ankle deep! Hillarious! See the video here at The Political Teen. Sorta maybe screwed up their lead-in to a "gotcha" story of Pentagon "choreography" heh. No embarrassment at all, just a funny laugh at the unmentioned irony by the "anchor people."

I'm not sure whether humourously lampooning the media even has a future any more, when you can get his level of quality from the real thing. Finding the stories that might not even be there? We all saw the tape of New Orleans policemen assaulting that elderly man last week. It looks like he'll have a very strong case for police brutality -- but he was adamant to reporters who asked him, that he didn't feel that it was a case of racism. He is an elderly black man, and the officers were white, yet he maintains that it is a simple case of police being too aggressive (to him as well as to a nearby reporter). Here is WuzzaDem's take -- pictorial and satirical, and very funny.


n the day Iraqis were taking their futures more securely into their own hands, Minister Louis Farrakhan was leading the 10th anniversary re-enactment of the 1995 Million Man March. I watched some of it on C-SPAN (it was carried live and then replayed again). I find it difficult to listen to angry tirades of shrillness for extended periods, and this thing went on for hours. So I did need to take some breaks, and missed Jesse and Al and most of the big stars. But I did hear all 75 minutes of Minister Farrakhan -- couldn't drag myself away, he's that weird. The high point for me was when he invoked the memory of Mao, and how that mass murderer had enlisted the help of China's artistic community to collectively restore China's great cultural heritage behind his ideological leadership. I wish I had a transcript of that one, it was quite the performance. It struck me that Farrakhan sees himself in a similar role, like he idealised Mao because he wants to do likewise. His portrayal of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was simply astounding.

One aspect that really surprised me though, was the amount of time various speakers spent asking the people to give them money. There was one Nation of Islam character who said he wasn't "allowed" to ask people to give money to the folks going around collecting it, and he spent about five minutes explaining what the money would be used for, and where the receptacles were, and how much power it would give to the movement if they collected lots and lots of money. Then somebody else came up, and diverging from prepared text, started extolling the virtues of "Everlasting Spring Water," on sale all over the Mall from kiosks and stands, the purest spring water to ever exist on planet Earth, and by the way it's owned by NoI or MMM or something too, so buy a bottle or several bottles, it's delicious, so delicious, so why not buy a case to take home to your family? And then Farrakhan himself launched into shilling for money himself, declaring a new movement was born on this day, and every black person in America should pledge one dollar a week to the success of this wonderful new people's movement. And he went on and on, only one dollar a week, who can't afford that? Well, it's more than signing up for Times Select to read Krugman and Dowd, and practically nobody wants to do that. Yes, give one dollar a week, and also pledge to fast one day a week, and you'll save more than that dollar on your grocery bill, so you'll actually come out ahead! Brothers and Sisters!

In a related pre-event seminar, I heard one angry people's warrior declare that after the rally, "white America and her white media" would not get its reporting right. It would misrepresent everything, "and they'll probably even call it the Million Man March, and get the name wrong." So it was kind of funny to hear Farrakhan, in declaring his "Millions More Movement Relief Fund" actually goof up himself, when he accidentally called it the "Million Man March Relief Fund." I wonder how many others caught that, or whether aforementioned people's warrior did.

One black conservative blogger did a little searching, and came up with two pictures worth a million words. If this is momentum, unlike the Iraqi democrats, this one is in the wrong direction. Wai Gateway Pundit.


ast week I linked to Rebecca McKinnon's site, and to Gateway Pundit for roundups of the situation with a Chinese rights activist who was thought (by his Guardian journalist companion) to have been beaten to death. Thankfully, the man survived his ordeal. Also thankfully, both sites updated their articles with this information, so anyone following the links would have found the updated information. This is for anyone reading here who might not have done so. Those Chinese rights activists are a lot tougher than they may look (and a good thing too).

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