Iraqi elections cancelled by U.S. Army hand-picks its own mayors Frustration builds
BOOTH AND RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN SPECIAL TO THE STAR
SAMARRA, IraqU.S. military commanders have ordered a
halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and
towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own
hand-picked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former
Iraqi military leaders.
The decision to deny Iraqis a direct role in selecting
municipal governments is creating anger and resentment among
aspiring leaders and ordinary citizens, who say the U.S.-led
occupation forces aren't making good on their promise to bring
greater freedom and democracy to a country dominated for three
decades by former president Saddam Hussein.
The go-slow approach to representative government in at
least a dozen provincial cities is especially frustrating to
younger, middle-class professionals, who say they want to help
their communities emerge from post-war chaos and to let, as
one put it, "Iraqis make decisions for Iraq."
"They give us a general," said Bahith Sattar, a biology
teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for
mayor until that election was cancelled last week. "First of
all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're
not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a
The most recent order to stop planning for elections
was made by Maj.-Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th
Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of Iraq.
It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in
central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.
In Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections
for a city government but have said they are forming
neighbourhood councils that at some point will play a role in
selection of a municipal government.
L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator of Iraq, said
in an interview that there is "no blanket prohibition" against
self-rule. "I'm not opposed to it, but I want to do it a way
that takes care of our concerns. ... Elections that are held
too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very
Iraqi critics of the policy shift say the American and
British forces are primarily hurting themselves by smothering
aspiring leaders who would benefit from the chance to work
more closely with Westerners. In addition, they say, the
occupation authorities are fostering a dependent, passive
mindset among Iraqis and leaving no one but themselves to
blame for the crime, faltering electricity and general misrule
Iraqis see in their daily lives.
Sattar, the would-be candidate in Samarra, said, "The
new mayors do not have to be perfect. But I think that by
allowing us to establish our own governments, many of the
problems today would be solved."
Occupation authorities initially envisioned the
creation of local assemblies, composed of several hundred
delegates who would represent a city or town's tribes, clergy,
middle class, women and ethnic groups. Those delegates would
select a mayor and city council.
That process was employed successfully in the northern
city of Kirkuk, but U.S. civilian and military occupation
officials now say post-war chaos has left Iraq unprepared to
stage popular elections in most cities.
"In a post-war situation like this, if you start
holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to
win," Bremer said. "It's often the best-organized who win, and
the best-organized right now are the former Baathists and to
some extent the Islamists."
He was referring to members of Saddam's Baath Party and
religiously oriented political leaders.
Bremer and other U.S. officials are fearful that
Islamic leaders such as Moqtada Sadr, a young Shiite Muslim
cleric popular on the streets of Baghdad, and Ayatollah
Mohammed Bakir Hakim, leader of the Iranian-supported Supreme
Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, would be best
positioned to field winning candidates.
Bremer promises that as soon as an Iraqi constitution
is written and a national census taken, local and national
elections will follow. But that process could take months.
Ten weeks into the occupation, the cities and towns
outside of Baghdad are largely administered by former Iraqi
military and police officers and people who had close ties to
the Baath Party. Iraqi generals and police colonels, for
example, are now mayors of a dozen cities, including Samarra,
Najaf, Tikrit, Balad and Baqubah.
The U.S. military contends these people have been
vetted and were not in leadership positions under the old
government or associated with its crimes.
In Najaf last week, several hundred demonstrators took
to the streets to demand elections and the removal of mayor
Abdul Munim Abud, a former Iraqi artillery colonel. The
protesters' banners read: "Cancelled elections are evidence of
bad intentions" and "O America, where are promises of freedom,
elections, and democracy?"
In Samarra, about 120 kilometres north of Baghdad, the
selection of a new mayor and city council by delegates was
postponed twice, and finally cancelled late last week.
"There will be no elections for the foreseeable
future," said Sgt. Jeff Butler of the U.S. Army's 418th Civil
Affairs Battalion, which is charged with running the city.
The current mayor of Samarra is Shakir Mahmud Mohammad,
a retired general in the Iraqi army, who came into power here
in April as U.S. forces arrived in the city.
Mohammad was selected by a council representing the
seven major tribes in and around Samarra, and by most accounts
did an admirable job keeping order in the city in the post-war
Butler described Mohammad "as a very personable guy,
with a decent amount of legitimacy, and he is basically
somebody we thought we can work with."
In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, Lt.-Col. Steve
Russell's mission is not to establish democracy in the region,
but to hunt down remnants of the former government and others
who are attacking U.S. troops.
That's understandable, said Nabel Darwesh Mohammad, the
mayor of nearby Balad, who is a former colonel in the Iraqi
"But the American soldiers must understand that
security comes also from giving the people their own leaders,
their own powers."
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