Iraq vote to be difficult

(U-WIRE) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Sunday’s successful elections in the occupied territories cemented Mahmoud Abbas’ role as Yasser Arafat’s successor as president of the Palestinian Authority. They were the first test of this month’s tests of democracy in the Middle Eastern trouble spots. His landslide victory seems to provide an opening for progress toward peace in one of the few hopeful developments in the last few years.

Unfortunately, Palestinian elections will almost certainly prove to be far easier than those scheduled to take place in Iraq on Jan. 30.

Claims of the region’s incompatibility with democracy are simplistic and historically unfounded. Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh was democratically elected back in the 1950s before being overthrown by the United States and Britain. Still, Iraq’s elections are staggering toward a failure that would confer little legitimacy to whatever government emerged and further fuel the insurgency.

While the United States’ military rightly notes that only four of 18 provinces will be significantly disrupted by the strength of local rebels, those four provinces hold half of Iraq’s population and the capital city.

The insurgent base among Iraqi Sunnis shows little sign of pacification. The largest Sunni political party has withdrawn, many prominent Sunni leaders are urging boycotts of the vote, and the Sunni president of Iraq wants the vote delayed. The inevitable rise to power of majority Shiites will only be acceptable among more moderate Sunnis if they fully participate.

With Fallujah in rubble, major military sweeps continuing south of Baghdad, and large areas under rebel control in Ramadi and Mosul, full Sunni participation in elections three weeks from now is arguably impossible even without widespread boycotts.

American and Iraqi interim officials claim a delay of the elections would be a victory for insurgents. This is true, but that defeat could be overcome by the greater strategic victory of legitimate elections, whether they take place on schedule or a few months from now.

Significantly, the only demand the major Sunni party has in return for dropping its boycott of the elections is a timetable for an American withdrawal from Iraq. For legitimate elections, this seems a reasonable price and an ultimately necessary step.

Chris Narkun

Daily Lobo (U. New Mexico)