Bush and Blair have been quick to hail the elections in Iraq as a "victory for democracy" and a vindication of their brutal occupation of Iraq, but this was largely for public consumption.
They know that in reality not a single issue has been resolved by the Iraqi elections.
A western-style democracy, with all its restrictions, is not even on offer to the people of Iraq. How can any democratic election take place under the guns of a foreign occupation force? All that imperialism offers the Iraqi people is continued bloodshed, suffering and the looting of Iraq’s economic resources.
Iraq’s macabre election went ahead amidst gunfire, exploding bombs and deserted streets. Streets in cities across Iraq had been emptied for two days before the election, borders sealed, airports and roads closed. Hardly anyone voted in the ruins of Fallujah.
As Robert Fisk of The Independent observed, it was more like the preparation for a war than an election, with US and coalition troops on every street corner. The votes will not be counted for a few days yet, but some results are already assured: greater sectarian division and heightened insurgency.
The election displayed all the divisions that the US-led invasion has created in Iraqi society. The brutal occupation has opened sectarian wounds in Iraq that lay under the surface before. There were high turnouts in the Shia and Kurdish areas but the overwhelming majority of Sunni Muslim Iraqis in central Iraq boycotted the election.
The turnout in Shia areas reflected the reaction to years of repression under Saddam, but also the Shiite parties’ jockeying for position to achieve greater influence in the national assembly. Ayatollah Sistani, spiritual leader of many Iraqi Shias, had issued a fatwah to vote, an instruction which he said was even more important than prayer.
And the election also revealed the almost universal hostility among Iraqis to the imperialist occupation. One of the main things that unites Iraqis whether from a Shiite or Sunni background, voters or boycotters is a universal hatred of the occupying forces. Most Sunnis boycotted the election in protest at the US occupation and most Shias voted in what they saw as the best way to get rid of the occupiers.
More problems ahead
The elections could not elect a sovereign government, whatever the vote’s result. Whoever is selected as prime minister the real decisions will still be made in Washington, transmitted through the giant US embassy in Baghdad and exercised through the barrels of the guns of American troops. The election’s main task was to elect a constituent assembly to write the new constitution due by 15 August. This in itself will raise more problems than solutions.
The Sunnis’ boycott will make it difficult to patch up a constitutional arrangement that includes all Iraqi ethnic groups. Sistani and Shia leaders realise they have to include Sunnis outside the national assembly in negotiations for a new constitution, but they will not be willing to relinquish the dominant position they conquered through the elections.
The high turnout of Kurds in the northern provinces reflects their desire for autonomy, but this throws up even more conundrums for the assembly and problems for imperialism. Kurds leaving the polling stations also voted in an unofficial ballot for an independent Kurdistan, which is intended to increase the bargaining power of Kurdish leaders for autonomy.
Any attempt to include Kirkuk, which lies in the heart of the northern oil fields and has a large Arab population, in the Kurdish autonomous areas would be resisted by Sunni Arabs in the province and beyond. It would also encourage the oil-rich Shia-dominated provinces in the South to push for some form of autonomy.
The election has not resolved a single problem facing the US administration in Iraq. According to US military estimates 200,000 insurgents, including 40,000 hardened fighters, pin down 150,000 American troops.
The US administration had hoped to create some kind of Iraqi security force that will allow an American withdrawal. But there is no chance of the newly-created Iraqi national guard containing the insurgency with only 40,000 largely untrained volunteers recruited so far and its own ranks depleted by desertions and already infiltrated by insurgent sympathisers.
Bush and Blair, both under intense pressure at home to withdraw from Iraq, try to portray the election as some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. This might actually add to the pressure on Bush to withdraw American troops as their death and injury tolls mount.
But the US administration do not expect to pull out of Iraq for at least two years. Some Pentagon analysts believe they will be there for much longer. Long gone are the triumphalist days immediately after the war, now US policy in Iraq is reduced to damage limitation.
Some strategists of the American ruling class recognise that there is no solution and favour an early exit leaving Iraqis to their fate in a divided country. But Bush cannot countenance such a humiliating u-turn.
Talk of a capitalist "democratic domino effect" spreading across the Middle East is pie in the sky. On the contrary, Bush’s Iraq adventure has threatened to destabilise the whole Middle East.
The emergence of a Shia-dominated Iraqi National Assembly and the outline of a "Shia crescent" stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon threatens all the Sunni oil kingdoms containing large, oppressed Shia populations including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Some of the neo-con "crazies" in the US regime are seriously considering the scenario of these oil states falling and another military adventure in Saudi Arabia while at the same time rattling its sabre at Iran.
As the socialist predicted before the invasion, the war and occupation of Iraq has resulted in a serious setback for American imperialism, but it has brought terrible suffering to the people of Iraq, worse even than in the period before the war under Saddam.
Throughout Iraq in every community, most working people want unity and fear ethnic division. But imperialism’s actions, for example its use of mainly Shia Iraqi National Guards in the horrific destruction at Fallujah, is serving to drive a wedge between the communities and threatens society with an escalation of sectarian conflict.
Elections under imperialist occupation can solve none of the problems of working people in Iraq. Instead we call for a mass movement of the working class and oppressed masses cutting across all ethnic divisions that can build a force capable of ending the occupation of Iraq.
Then it would be possible to call for the convening of a constituent assembly of democratically-elected delegates to prepare a workers’ and poor farmers’ government leading to a socialist confederation of Iraq with national and minority rights.
Imperialism promises even more death and destruction across the Middle East and the rest of the world unless the working people of the world can hold down the warmongers’ mailed fist and begin the journey towards a socialist future.
From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales