Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where were the Iraq Elections Monitors?

On March 7, Iraq held parliamentary elections amid a mysterious absence of international monitors. In spite of many subsequent press articles about contested results, silence has prevailed about the missing monitors. Why would human rights organizations and monitoring agencies ignore such a major election? And why would they not take up the story as news of problems has emerged?
The main Iraqi parties and candidates have all charged that the election was dishonest and unfair. Some have said that the US embassy and the CIA were working to promote the election of Iyad Allawi, the leader of the anti-Maliki bloc. Allawi was named by the US to the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, set up soon after the occupation began. He is reliably said to have long been on the payroll of the CIA and British intelligence. Charges have been made against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, too, for fraudulent or very dubious election maneuvers, including denials of candidate status for persons on the basis of their religious affiliation or former Baath Party connection.
While some of the election problems are known, we know little about the activities in the polling stations, or on the streets, on election day. Little has been reported about the freedom of the electoral campaign, for that matter. Curiously, reporters have scarcely ever asked why we have so little reliable information about the situation on the ground and why independent international election monitors stayed away.
Washington insists that electoral polls are the centerpiece of democracy. Yet the usual monitoring organizations in the US, like the Carter Center, the International Republican Institute and others, decided not to engage. Adding to the mystery, the Europeans didn't do their usual strong monitoring contingent either. Nor did the big human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) act vigorously in assessing the election process and calling for more international scrutiny.
Danger and difficulty simply cannot be an excuse for this lapse. After all, international monitors closely followed elections in Palestine and in Afghanistan, places that posed many more challenges (and expense) than Iraq.
After the findings of scandal during the elections in Afghanistan, did the usual watchdogs decide to give this one as pass? Or did USAID simply refuse to pay for scrutiny this time around? And what did the United Nations find out, since its UNAMI assistance mission was involved in the election process? UN Iraq envoy Ad Meikert has said that the elections were not fundamentally flawed, but we all remember that the UN also gave its stamp of approval to the fatally-flawed Afghan polls.
We need serious and reliable answers about the Iraq elections and there are honest Iraqis who could provide them. Otherwise, it will be tempting to conclude that dirty tricks prevailed, that a cover-up may have been put in place, and that the famous "sovereignty" of Iraq may still be a long way away.

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