Iraq: One ‘Election’, Two Different Stories By William Bowles

31 January 2005

BBC coverage of the ‘election’ in Iraq is nothing short of amazing, with so much ‘spin’ I’m left feeling dizzy. Aside from the fact that throughout the entire week’s coverage by the BBC in the run-up to the ‘election’, we were not told how a fair election could be held in a country under military occupation and marshal law, we have the following outrageous statements by BBC reporters ‘on the spot’:

Iraq may have democracy but it still doesn’t have much electricity.

[T]he taste of democracy today is particularly sweet.
– Ben Brown, Basra, 30 January

Democracy? How does this measure up to the reality, for example the almost complete destruction of a city of 300,000 people, where even according to the BBC, at best only 2,500 men returned allegedly to vote but an on-the-spot journalist tells us that those who voted:

… is less than the fingers of one hand.
Fadel al-Badrani, Falluja

Which according my arithmetic makes it between one and four people.

Over the past week, we have not heard a single dissenting voice on the issue of the legitimacy of the ‘election’. In fact it’s been wall-to-wall praise with words like “miracle” and “a dream made a reality” occurring almost every day and on every BBC ‘news’ programme. A veritable litany of government propaganda spewed out by a complacent not to mention complicit, state-run media in an enormous effort to legitimise the ‘election’ in words if not in deed.

And were one to listen to the BBC ‘news’ for a dissenting voice on the ‘election’, then you would have listened in vain, for not a single voice was heard that disturbed the prevailing illusion.

U.S.-appointed interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi recently handed out 100- dollar bills to journalists at a press conference. He then gave teachers an unexpected 100-dollar bonus.

Allawi seems to be on his way to winning the election in Iraq, such as it is.

Wa’il Issam, an unemployed translator, has his views about this kind of campaign. “Allawi is bribing people and using money to buy votes and support from journalists, retired people and teachers,” he said. “And I promise you that Allawi is fixing it so 70 percent of the Shias will vote for him, even though it will be a faked election.”

Wa’il Issam spoke of other ‘provisions’ that will help Allawi. “Now it is possible for one family member to cast votes for all of the people in his house,” he said. “How do you think a man who has worked for six secret service organisations from different countries could lose this election?”
The Dollar Campaigns for Allawi’, Dahr Jamail, IPS, 27/1/05

So much for the BBC’s allegations about legitimacy. And this from another Jamail story that illustrates that the ‘election’ follows a tried and tested method for buying elections US-style.

Many Iraqis said Monday that their names were marked on a list provided by the government agency that provides monthly food rations before they were allowed to vote.

”I went to the voting centre and gave my name and district where I lived to a man,” said Wassif Hamsa, a 32-year-old journalist who lives in the predominantly Shia area Janila in Baghdad. ”This man then sent me to the person who distributed my monthly food ration.”
“Some Just Voted for Food” by Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service BAGHDAD, Jan 31

Take for example the issue of the turnout. The BBC gave us a figure of a “60% turnout” of the registered electors, then John Simpson told us that the “real turnout will not be known for some days”. How does the BBC square these two statements? BBC 2’s Sunday night ‘news’ opened with a back projection that alleged that the country was “60% Shia…20% Sunni…20% Kurd”, though we are not told where these figures originate from. Every effort has been made to present the ‘election’ as one between Sunni, Shia and Kurd. Those who view the ‘election’ as a sham created by the occupation got no representation.

Take for example, the BBC’s Website page ‘Reporters Log’ that contained 34 short reports on the ‘election’ that contained not one dissenting Iraqi voice that questioned the legitimacy of the election. All the reports with the exception of two from Fallujah, were from areas such as the Kurdish north and selected towns where turnout has been at least according to the reports, “high”, though how this appraisal has been arrived at relies on US-appointed officials of the Election Commission. The UN’s reports are, by contrast far more circumspect as to actual turnout.
news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4214707.stm

The BBC also told us that voting from overseas was even higher (”66%”) even though earlier in the week, we were told that only 214,000 out of an estimated 1.2 million eligible overseas voters actually registered to vote (BBC Radio 4 AM News, 27/1/05). Again, how does the BBC square these two highly contradictory numbers? The manipulation of the ‘news’ has been even by BBC ‘standards’, staggering in the way it has painted a picture of an allegedly democratic (but not ‘free and fair’) election.

For example, not once have we heard the BBC mention the fact that the ‘interim’ government of Allawi was installed by the US under conditions imposed by the US and under rules drawn up by the previous US-imposed Gauleiter Paul Bremer. In fact, the entire context and run-up to the ‘election’ has been completely airbrushed out of the picture by the BBC’s coverage.

A few points are worth noting namely, that the BBC has thus far refrained from using the mantra ‘free and fair’ to describe the ‘election’ considering it no doubt one step too far. But on the other hand, it also refrained from mentioning that the country is under martial law with a country-wide ‘lock-down’ of the population under the boot of the occupation forces. Nor are we told that the names of virtually all the 11,000 candidates remain unknown. How can anything even approaching a democratic election be held under these circumstances?

It’s worth contrasting the BBC and the corporate press’s coverage of the ‘election’ with those of other journalists who bothered to find out just how representative the state-run and corporate press coverage has actually been.

“The elections cannot be legitimate because we are under occupation, so I will not be voting, nor will any of my friends,” said Layla Hamad, a Shiite shop owner.

“It’s not a matter of elections, because those in power will stay in power,” commented Suhaid, a 23-year old Shiite who is an unemployed computer science engineer. “This is a big lie and the elections are illegitimate.”

“Asked if he expected to vote, Saif promptly responded: “Even though the elections will happen, they will not be legitimate, and they will be a disaster. Anybody elected will be a puppet of Bush.”
“Iraqis Discuss Voting, Or Not, in Elections Held Amidst Chaos,” The NewsStandard, Dahr Jamail and Brian Dominick, January 18, 2005

Even assuming that these are a ‘minority’, the very fact that the BBC chose not to include even a single, dissenting voice from ‘received’ opinion tells us much about how heavily engineered the ‘news’ coverage really is and just how afraid the ruling class is to reveal anything that challenges the carefully engineered myth of an (almost) democratic election.

Take for example, the piece by Omar Khan, ‘Democracy in Iraq’ where we get a picture that jars with the ‘official’ version peddled by the corporate press, or the article by Dahr Jamail ‘Hollow Election Held on Bloody Day’, both of which reveal a very different state of affairs.

“They are wrong on principle, the High Commission for Elections was appointed by Bremer (former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer), so how can we have a legitimate election under these circumstances,” said Sabah Rahwani in the Karrada district of Baghdad. “This election only serves the interest of the occupier, not Iraqis. This is only propaganda for Bush.”
Hollow Election Held on Bloody Day’, Dahr Jamail, 30/1/05

We hear the voices of Iraqis that the raft of BBC reporters neglected to talk to, and not surprising given that many of the BBC reporters are, in fact, ‘embedded’ with US and British occupation forces, as once more the BBC neglects to tell us that ‘embedding’ means censoring, or did the BBC think that we have forgotten what it means to be embedded? It seems it’s time once again to remind the BBC that presenting its reporters as objective purveyors of the truth is an outrageous lie, that its reporters are no more than messengers for its Master’s voice.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the ‘election’ overlooked by the official media is the nature of the Iraqi Transitional Government (ITG) whose ‘authority’ is once more determined by the US-created Transitional Authoritative Law (TAL), a body that has the power to override any and every decision made by the ‘transitional government’, a power that makes a mockery of the much vaunted democracy the Iraqis are now alleged to possess.

The TAL for example, through the Supreme Court:

“… has the power to challenge virtually any decision that it believes to contravene the TAL. In deciding what legal questions it will examine, the court largely formulates its own rules. Rather than wait for formal legal complaints to wind their way through a hierarchical court system, the supreme court theoretically has broad authority to identify and act upon issues it deems relevant to the interpretation of the TAL. This sort of independence, and the ability to block legislative and executive actions, represents a new and unusual feature of Iraqi politics in general, and specifically for judges.”
‘Iraq: Outlook for National Elections and Governance’, www.washingtoninstitute.org/html/pdf/HOOKER-FINAL.pdf The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Gregory Hooker, January 2005, p. 27.

What the BBC is not telling its listeners and viewers is that aside from the impossibility of holding ‘free and fair’ elections under military occupation, the structures created such as the ITG and the TAL preclude such a ‘free and fair election’ ever being held, whether or not there is a war of resistance going on. That the ‘laws’ passed by Paul Bremer and the Transitional Authority hold sway over the entire fabric of what is left of Iraqi civil society. That the election is a sham from start to finish, designed to do one thing and one thing only – to create a veneer of legitimacy for the continued illegal occupation of Iraq. The ‘dream’ of democracy that the BBC crowed about is just that, a dream or perhaps nightmare would be a better description.

The BBC is therefore complicit in the process of lying most outrageously to the British people about the reality of the ‘election’ and to its eternal shame brazenly selling the propaganda line of the Blair/Bush governments.

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
Email: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk

Write to Roger Mosey, head of BBC TV news
Email: roger.mosey@bbc.co.uk

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