Saddam fails to win 0.04% of vote

PATRICK COCKBURN

Baghdad

A pigeon accidentally shot by a supporter of Saddam Hussein lay flapping on the ground in the courtyard of a block of flats in central Baghdad. It had mis-timed its flight to coincide with the announcement that 99.96 per cent of the Iraqi people want Saddam to be their president for the next seven years.

Exactly 3,052 people, or one voter in 3,000, voted against President Saddam, of whom 2,463, were in Baghdad.

The block is largely inhabited by members of the ruling Baath party, who ran to their balconies to fire their sub-machine guns and pistols into the air in celebration. Children sang songs in praise of President Saddam and some of their parents tossed money into the air. This is not as expensive as it would have been a few years ago, since the Iraqi dinar has fallen from three to the US dollar to 2,000 today.

Throughout the referendum, in which 8 million Iraqis trooped to the polls, Saddam Hussein remained largely invisible. The pictures on Iraqi television showing him waving to enthusiastic crowds are about five years old. But there is a change in the way in which the presenters refer to him. When President Saddam's name is mentioned they now invariably add: "May God preserve him and protect him." Only the Prophet Mohamed traditionally receives such treatment.

Iraqis normally see their leader on the nightly news as he receives foreign dignitaries. But they are few and far between these days, and include people of dubious diplomatic significance.The only person of any notoriety to travel to Baghdad in the last few days has been Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian nationalist politician. His bizarre presence underlines Iraq's political isolation. He gave an interview to Iraqi television dressed up as an Arab sheikh and looking like an ageing Colonel Gaddafi. He saw Saddam Hussein for five hours, saying afterwards: "I talked for four of them." At the al-Rashid hotel, Mr Zhirinovsky's bodyguard angered other guests by ordering them out of the lift whenever the Russian delegation was using it.

There may have been a moment when President Saddam thought that the Gulf war coalition would break up. Russia and France would successfully oppose sanctions; Turkey would become restive about the loss of Iraqi trade. But if anything, the embargo is getting tighter. There are few trucks on the lifeline through Jordan, and Jordanian customs have got much tougher on smuggling.

At the same time, Iraq is not starving. There is malnutrition, but the government rationing system still works. The fields along the Tigris and the Euphrates are full of farmers, and there are more fruit and vegetables in the market than before sanctions. A kilo of figs costs about 18 pence but apples, which are grown beyond the Iraqi line in Kurdistan, cost seven times as much. "Apples are for the rich," said one shopper.

This may explain why Iraq has rejected the UN Security Council plan for a limited sale of Iraqi crude oil under the partial control of the UN. Diplomats here argue that this shows Iraq still has the hard currency in secret foreign accounts to pay for just enough food to get by.

There are few overt signs of resentment. The only one in recent weeks was a bomb under the car of a diplomat at the Russian embassy - he had gone into the embassy a few minutes earlier. Moscow used to be a firm ally of President Saddam, and although it has done little for him in the last five years, nobody in Baghdad knows why its embassy should have been singled out for attack.

Sunday's referendum proves nothing but that the government has administrative control, but it is no closer to breaking out of the political and economic siege than it was after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. A weak Iraq suits too many interests. Neither the US, Saudi Arabia nor Kuwait wants radical change in Baghdad, even if they want a new man at the top.

Ordinary Iraqis have a sense that they are at the mercy of events over which they have no control, and most are just scraping by. Open-air markets have developed in Baghdad as people buy and sell anything from furniture to piles of rags and broken plates. This makes it a more human city than at the height of the oil boom, but also a despairing one. The only real ambition that most Iraqis now have is to survive.

Leading article, page 18

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum