Iraq: dialectic of terror as elections begin

The discovery of yet another clandestine torture center run by the Shi’ite-dominated Interior Ministry provides helpful propaganda to the Sunni jihadis. Around it goes. From Newsday, Dec. 13:

BAGHDAD – Five Islamic extremist groups denounced Iraq’s parliamentary elections this week as a “satanic project” but stopped short of an explicit threat yesterday to attack polling stations.

Despite ongoing violence that killed at least 15 people, soldiers, patients and prisoners began voting yesterday, three days ahead of the general population.

Meanwhile, President Ibrahim al-Jaafari ordered an investigation into suspected abuse of prisoners by Iraq’s Shia-dominated security forces after U.S. and Iraqi troops found abused, starved detainees at an Interior Ministry detention center.

Sunni Arab politicians have promised to end such abuse, and U.S. officials hope their participation in this election – in contrast to January’s boycott – will help sideline the insurgency, which is Sunni-dominated.

But in a rare joint statement, the five militant groups said “the so-called political process” violates “the legitimate policy approved by God.” The groups, which included al-Qaida in Iraq, vowed to “continue our jihad … to establish an Islamic state.”

The statement, which appeared on an extremist Web site, contained no clear threat to disrupt voting, though. That could reflect the Sunni Arabs’ growing interest in the vote.

In the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, hooded men carrying assault rifles erected campaign posters for the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni Arab alliance. One banner praised the group’s leaders, saying, “They have pure hands.”

In Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, which is predominantly Shia, thousands rallied yesterday for Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, a powerful cleric. “Yes, yes to Islam! Yes, yes to Iraq! Yes, yes to the religious leadership!” they chanted.

In the first day of early voting, about 250,000 Iraqis – soldiers, police officers, hospital patients and prisoners – cast ballots, election officials said.

The U.S.-led multinational force said 90 percent of its eligible detainees voted, but it did not say how many people that was. Suspected insurgents who have not been convicted were eligible, officials said. It was not known if ousted leader Saddam Hussein cast a ballot.

As voting began, the Human Rights Ministry and the U.S. military said 13 prisoners were hospitalized after being found at an overcrowded prison run by the Interior Ministry.

Prisoners had their bones broken and their fingernails pulled out, were subjected to electric shocks and had burning cigarettes crushed into their necks and backs, said an Iraqi official, who U.S. officials said had first-hand knowledge of the torture.

The cases appeared more severe than those of beaten, emaciated prisoners found in the basement of another Baghdad Interior Ministry facility last month.

“Human Rights Ministry,” eh? A cabinet position, no less. A little Orwellian humor there, we guess…

A chart accompanying a Dec. 9 NY Times story shows the fractures emerging in the (poorly-named) United Iraqi Alliance, the major Shi’ite bloc in the upcoming elections. The dominant factions appear to be Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari‘s Dawa Islamic Party and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim‘s pro-Iran Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI is militantly opposed by Moktada al-Sadr‘s Sadr Organization, which is in turn supported by Muhammad Yacoubi‘s Fadilah Party. Despite the factionalism, the coalition is supported (if less vocally than in the past) by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Factions which have already broken with the United Iraqi Alliance include the Iraqi National Congress led by former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, and Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi‘s Hezbollah Iraq. The current US favorite appears to be former prime minister Iyad Allawi‘s Iraqi List.

See our last post on Iraq, and on last month’s torture revelations and Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.