Iraq, the 51st state
Engel in America
Wednesday March 19, 2003
Now that war is finally upon us, we must all hope or (if we share our leaders' piety) pray that, within a matter of days, the thing is done with, the Iraqi people will be free of their oppressor and able to enjoy the benefits of American-style democracy. Here is a brief reprise of some of the changes they can expect if the US decides to give Iraq a facsimile of its own highly regarded system.
1. At present, according to the official website of the Iraqi National Assembly ("a major organ for the expression of democracy") the 250 members are elected by blocs of 50,000 voters throughout the country. This suggests the outline principle is the same as in the US. However, the American constitution demands that the 600,000 inhabitants of its own capital city should not be allowed to take part in this process. The reasons are so obvious that no one can remember what they are, but most of those affected are poor and black, anyway. To ensure true devotion to US principles, the same will have to apply in Iraq; doubtless the Americans will break the news to the people of Baghdad tactfully.
2. In Iraq's last presidential election, Saddam Hussein received 100% of the votes, a fact we know because officials said so. Instead, the Iraqis can expect a choice between two different American electoral models, either (a) the one employed in Florida in 2000, designed to ensure that the candidate with the most support loses, or (b) the modern version, as applied in more advanced states, where people vote on touch-screen computers. No one has yet got 100% of the votes by this method but Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska did get 83%. We know this because the company that built the machines - which he part-owns - said so.
3. Under various decrees of the revolutionary command council, capital punishment can be handed out cruelly and whimsically in Iraq for a wide variety of offences. Guilt or innocence is irrelevant. This is reported only by a few outside human rights bodies. This would cease under an American-installed system. Instead, executions would be largely confined to black murderers, most of whom will probably be guilty, accused of murdering whites and too poor to afford a decent lawyer. This will be reported only by a few outside human-rights bodies.
4. Under decree 59 of 1994, Iraqis can lose their right hand for theft of more than 5,000 dinars and their left foot for a second offence. This will presumably be replaced by the three-strikes law, ratified this month by the supreme court, under which Leandro Andrade has been jailed for 50 years for stealing nine videos and Gary Ewing got 25 years to life for the theft of three golf clubs.
5. Any Iraqi journalist thought likely to ask Saddam Hussein a difficult question is now subject to the dictates of paragraph 3. The American way (as seen during the presidential press conference two weeks ago) provides for such people to be stuck at the back of the room and simply not called.
6. Saddam has been universally seen firing his gun indiscriminately and menacingly. Under the second amendment, this right would be extended to everyone.
7. Saddam has conducted unnecessary and aggressive foreign wars to distract his benighted people from domestic economic collapse. Such behaviour would be unthinkable under American democracy.
8. Under Saddam, prisoners are held secretly and without trial, and tortured to extract information. Ditto.
9. The Iraqi system is largely dynastic and a leader like Saddam can pave the way for his son to attain wealth and power without regard to merit. Same again.
10. Saddam "electronically bugged" UN weapons inspectors, President Bush said in his speech on Monday night. The US has not yet tried to refute the Observer story that it bugged private meetings of other security council members. It's probably too busy to dignify it with an answer.
11. Saddam has also threatened his neighbours. A well-placed source in Chile reports that Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative, informed the Chilean foreign minister that, if they didn't do as they were told in the security council, their free trade treaty would not be ratified and loans would mysteriously cease. One small example.
12. The National Assembly's system of passing legislation has proved inadequate. Things are different here. When a Georgia congress man slipped in an exemption to organic food labelling rules into a recent bill to protect a firm that gave him a ,000 campaign donation, it was noticed and criticised. True, the bill was already law before this happened, because no one in Congress had bothered to read it. But the US will ensure that the new legislature cannot be bought secretly for long. At least not that cheaply.
13. There will be no setting fire to oil wells. We need that stuff, dammit.
14. It would be impossible for a war to be conducted solely because one domineering leader forced a cowed and compliant parliament into agreement.
The new Iraq will be nothing like that. It could only happen in Britain. firstname.lastname@example.org