Freelance journalist Brian Palmer (full disclosure: an old friend from my China reporting days) recently started blogging from Iraq while embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Forward Operating Base Iskandariyah.
His latest post describes voting around Iskandariyah and "Musayyib, a predominantly Shia city about 40 km south of Baghdad." Then he goes on to analyze the election's overall meaning:
There seems to be an assumption in the US -- and here among US military folk -- that the election was a transparent exercise in organic democracy when in fact it was something far from that. The vote was orchestrated by the United States, from conception to execution. Washington called the elections and dictated the timetable. On the ground here in Musayyib and throughout Babil province, US Marines were the logistical backbone for the vote. They liaised with US-backed interim government and IECI officials; planned and coordinated security operations; launched pre-election raids on homes of suspected insurgents; arranged transport for officials and voting materials; acted as polling station inspectors before and after the vote.
The election, such as it was, clearly meant a lot to Iraqis who participated. It may provide the foundation for a more equitable society. But it may not. We need answers to certain questions from our own government and the Iraqi interim administration before congratulating ourselves for our beneficence and before heading toward the exit strategy. What was the US role, from soup to nuts? Were voters coerced to vote for particular candidates? How were ballots gathered and processed at the grassroots? If proper ballot-handling procedures weren't followed, does anything happen? Will nonvoters across the country, presumed to be largely Sunni, let the election results stand? The subjects and implementers of Washington's Iraq policy -- the living, the wounded, the dead, and the soon-to-be dead, Iraqi and American -- deserve answers.
Jeff Jarvis, following events via the blogs from New York writes: "It's not about George Bush, pro or con. It's not about America, pro or con. It's not even about the war, pro or con. It's about the Iraqi people and democracy and their future, for which there is only a pro, not a con." Iraqi bloggers like Mohammed and Omar, Zeyad, Alaa and many others are certainly jubilant, with much gratitude to the U.S. for making it happen. It would be interesting to know their views on some of Brian's questions. The fact that the election was engineered by the U.S. doesn't seem to make it any less "theirs," in their view, judging from what they write. Hoder, the Iranian uber-blogger, is happy for them but asks whether events of the past few days will "embolden neoconservatives" to carry out regime change elsehwere. This has sparked some lively debate in his comments section about the election's legitimacy.