January 7, 2005

Dear Mr. Bush,

I heard you on the radio today explaining that we were "making great progress"in Iraq. "It's exciting times for the Iraqi people," because of the elections on the way. Sitting in my car, it's heater fighting back the fridged wind outside, I laughed at your optimism of a situation defined by some in your own military brass as complete chaos.

Riverbend, a Baghdad-based writer in her mid-twenties, writes about your elections in her weblog. "People don't really sense that this is the first stepping stone to democracy as western media is implying," she writes. "Many people sense that this is just the final act of a really bad play."

She goes on to talk about the way the election is being handled where she lives, and it's a frightening counterpoint to your insistance that "I think elections will be such a incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people."

Riverbend writes:

"We're being bombarded with cute Iraqi commercials of happy Iraqi families preparing to vote. Signs and billboards remind us that the elections are getting closer...

"Can you just imagine what our history books are going to look like 20 years from now?

"'The first democratic elections were held in Iraq on January 29, 2005 under the ever-watchful collective eye of the occupation forces, headed by the United States of America. Troops in tanks watched as swarms of warm, fuzzy Iraqis headed for the ballot boxes to select one of the American-approved candidates...'

"It won't look good.

"There are several problems. The first is the fact that, technically, we don't know the candidates. We know the principal heads of the lists but we don't know who exactly will be running. It really is confusing. They aren't making the lists public because they are afraid the candidates will be assassinated.

"Another problem is the selling of ballots. We're getting our ballots through the people who give out the food rations in the varying areas. The whole family is registered with this person(s) and the ages of the varying family members are known. Many, many, many people are not going to vote. Some of those people are selling their voting cards for up to $400. The word on the street is that these ballots are being bought by people coming in from Iran. They will purchase the ballots, make false IDs (which is ridiculously easy these days) and vote for SCIRI or Daawa candidates. Sunnis are receiving their ballots although they don't intend to vote, just so that they won't be sold.

"Yet another issue is the fact that on all the voting cards, the gender of the voter, regardless of sex, is labeled "male". Now, call me insane, but I found this slightly disturbing. Why was that done? Was it some sort of a mistake? Why is the sex on the card anyway? What difference does it make? There are some theories about this. Some are saying that many of the more religiously inclined families won't want their womenfolk voting so it might be permissible for the head of the family to take the women's ID and her ballot and do the voting for her. Another theory is that this 'mistake' will make things easier for people making fake IDs to vote in place of females.

"All of this has given the coming elections a sort of sinister cloak. There is too much mystery involved and too little transparency. It is more than a little bit worrisome."

I don't even know what to say to you,



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