It’s still far too early to get excited about the Iraqi election in my opinion, the unsubstantiated 72 percent turnout claim of one Iraqi election official notwithstanding. DEBKA’s reports are rather more sober:
Four hours after the polls closed, a clearly relieved President George W. Bush spoke at the White House in praise of the bravery of Iraqis who turned out to vote and “firmly rejected the antidemocratic ideology” of terrorists. But the US president seemed to edge away from his usual encomiums on a “victory for democracy.” Nor did he actually commend the Iraqis for the big step they took towards establishing a free and democratic government.
The truth is that there was not much of either in this remarkable election.
DEBKAfile’s Iraq experts reveal that, while the turnout is officially estimated at 60%, the real figure will probably turn out to be quite a bit lower, no more than 40-45% – in itself an exceptional feat. The other surprising manifestation was the high proportion of Iraqi women voters – appraised at more than 55% of the total. This was most marked in the Shiite districts of the south, where local clerics ordered everyone to vote, but the men stayed at home and sent their womenfolk to perform their democratic duty.
The Shiite turnout was disappointing in other ways too. Long queues and 80% percentage of eligible voters appeared only in the two shrine cities of Najef and Karbala. Further south in the densely populated Diwanya, Mussana, Qadasiya and Amara, the proportion did not go beyond 40%. In Basra, Iraq’s second largest town, the turnout was 32-35%, although Iraqi election officials claimed 90%….
The most striking vote-rigging incident was reported in the northern oil town of Kirkuk. There, Kurdish troops and intelligence are alleged to have trucked in tens of thousands of armed Kurds from across the province to commandeer the polling stations. Cautious estimates put the figure of imported voters at 50,000. In the absence of a proper voters’ register and computers, there was no way of establishing which voters were intruders from other districts. When the non-Kurdish politicians saw the invasion, they backed off. By artificially inflating Unified Kurdish List numbers in Kirkuk, the Kurdish community substantially stepped up its representation in the national assembly.
Ballot-counting had barely begun Sunday night when the Shiites declared themselves the big winners over their Euphrates River TV station.
As I wrote in my column today, it’s the substance that matters. But the news media, regardless of whether it is pro- or con- a particular issue, isn’t exactly known for getting to the heart of things.