Tuesday, October 25, 2005

For all with eyes to see

The map on the left, from the BBC, shows how the provinces of Iraq voted on the new constitution. It tells the story of Iraq in the starkest terms, shows the divisions between, on the one hand, the (mostly-Sunni) central and western areas and, on the other hand, the (mostly-Shiite) south and east and the (mostly-Kurdish) north. And shows it in a way no one could rationally deny.

In fact, it seems no matter how you run the numbers, the same splits turn up. For example, the two provinces marked in red on the map - Anbar and Salahuddin - are the ones that rejected the proposed document by a greater than two-thirds majority. If you redid the map to show in red provinces that had a majority "no" vote, even if not a two-thirds majority, Nineveh in the northwest and bordering both Anbar and Salahuddin, would also be red. The overall result of about 78.5% "yes" and 21.5% "no" mirrors rather closely the population split between, again, Shiites and Kurds on the one hand and Sunnis on the other.

This is not to say, of course, that all Sunnis voted "no" and all Shiite and Kurds voted "yes." But even so, that dramatically-clear division is more than merely geographic, it is also strong and deep. Consider another map, one that would display in green those provinces where the winning side, whether "yes" or "no," got at least two-thirds of the vote; the rest would be in red. Fifteen provinces would be green; only three, all ethnically mixed, would be red, and one of those would be greenish: Diyala (51% yes), Nineveh (55% no), and Tamim (63% yes). In fact, if you raised it to provinces where the winning side got 95% of the vote or even more, you would still have 13 green provinces and only five red ones.

Back in August, I said that the vote looked like a lose-lose proposition.
The less likely possibility ... is that the constitution will be rejected and the whole process collapses and has to be started over. That would be a political disaster that would frustrate large parts of the Shiite community.... The more likely possibility ... is that the constitution will be approved over the objections of a large number of Sunnis who will then feel even more disaffected, regarding the constitution as something forced on them which is harmful to the needs of their community - and the insurgency will grow.
The prediction was hedged as "likely" because I expected it to be close in just the way that it was: If something like 10-12% of voters in one province (Nineveh) had voted differently, the proposed constitution would have been rejected. Oddly enough, reading the BBC's report on Monday about how the vote had turned into something of a cliffhanger, I began to think that despite the risks, for those who cling to the hope that maybe by some combination of strokes of sheer dumb luck something of lasting good for Iraqis could come out of all this, a defeat for the constitution might be the best thing, because it would give Sunnis a basis for believing that they did have some political power, did have a possible option beyond violence or victimization.

But it was not to be and already the resentments are appearing.
Sunni figures talked of widespread fraud after hearing the final results.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, part of a Sunni Arab team that negotiated the constitution, called the referendum a "farce" and accused government forces of stealing ballot boxes to reduce the size of the "No" vote.
But even with those I fear unbridgeable divisions, there are still some things on which the vast majority of Iraqis agree, as reported by the Sunday Telegraph (UK) for October 23: They oppose the occupation and say it's making things worse.
The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph ... demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation. ...

The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

- Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

- 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

- less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

- 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

- 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

- 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

The opinion poll, carried out in August, also debunks claims by both the US and British governments that the general well-being of the average Iraqi is improving in post-Saddam Iraq. ...

[T]he poll show[ed] that 71 per cent of people rarely get safe clean water, 47 per cent never have enough electricity, 70 per cent say their sewerage system rarely works and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed.
Interestingly, the area with the lowest percentage who felt that attacks are justified, 25%, was around Basra, another of the four UK-controlled provinces. However, that may have changed, as Basra, in the supposedly "peaceful" part of Iraq, has become a battleground between British forces and the very security forces whose successful buildup was supposed to provide the pretext for a withdrawal, but who now, the UK says, are heavily infiltrated by militias with ties to Iran.
Most ordinary people in Basra hate the militiamen, who enforce intolerant Islamic strictures forbidding the consumption of alcohol and the mixing of men and women in public. The militias are also accused of carrying out hundreds of executions of Sunni Arab opponents or of ordinary people who fall foul of their rules.

But the population of Basra largely turned against the British after the two [UK] soldiers were freed [in a military operation last week after having been arrested,] because of a widespread belief that they were Israeli spies.

It is feared that yesterday's arrests [of militia by UK forces] will only enrage them further.
Shrub, of course, responded to the vote by talking about "spreading freedom." In that August post, I advised him to "keep smiling - it's all you have." It still is.


Footnote: The Telegraph notes that the result of the MOD survey "differ markedly" from those of a poll commissioned by the BBC in March, 2004, indicating a sharp deterioration in the attitudes of Iraqis about the occupation and its effects on them. I referred to that BBC poll in my post on the first anniversary of the war, saying it described "some sense of hope among Iraqis," but if you want to check out the full results, to see just how much attitudes have changed in the last 18 months, they are at this link in a .pdf document.

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