Without Delay! The Vote Must Go On!
by Stephen Schwartz
There must be no delay in holding the scheduled elections in Iraq. The voting must take place on the day that was chosen, January 30, 2005, and it must take place throughout the country. If certain regions or communities choose to boycott the elections, fine; let them. The newly-elected parliament of 275 members will take office in any event and will pass legislation that will have equal force of law for both the voters and the boycotters.
The so-called Sunni coalition of Arabs and Kurds, which has demanded the elections be postponed, is clearly driven by Sunni adventurers who think they can play with the future of Iraq. Their language is both defiant and disrespectful; they want American troops to leave Iraq before an election is held, and they argue that the American-led coalition and the new Iraqi authorities are incapable of holding a fair balloting.
Accommodation of the Sunni gamblers would have widely negative consequences, above all in the messages it would send to ordinary Iraqis:
The only appropriate answer to the demands of Sunni political speculators and their fundamentalist backers must be a simple one: America will demonstrate that it will not leave Iraq without a representative government in place, and America will prove that its presence can assure a fair election. The very idea that the Sunni collaborators of Saddam should pretend to lecture others on principles of democracy is ridiculous.
However, it is fascinating to see how the Western media play this story. Suddenly tiny cliques of Sunni aspirants to power, who represent a minority of the population, are described in dispatches as "leading politicians," and their appeal, which is openly linked to terrorism, is said to be based on the lack of security in the country. But since the Sunni parties and clerics are mainly responsible for the lack of security, why do they themselves not act to reinforce security? The parallel with the Saudis, who foster Islamist extremism and then complain when it brings terrorism to their own doorstep, comes to mind. The Sunni game in Iraq represents resort to an old example of political sleight-of-hand. Clearly, Western observers who want to spin Iraq negatively regardless of the cost would be perfectly happy to see the elections postponed. And in Iraq, a postponement would probably mean forever. To Western intellectuals and journalists who have suddenly become enemies of democracy, when it has a U.S. label on it, that would be fine.
The Sunni coalition is exceeded in its general arrogance and mendacity by the opportunism of some of its members. The superannuated Adnan Pachachi, a relic of the Iraqi politics of a half century past, was always viewed by some as a spoiler. Having lost his bid for the interim Iraqi presidency, Pachachi clearly decided that his last gambit will be to disrupt the electoral process. But members of prime minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord have also swerved in the direction of a postponement, and Christian politicians -- who, notwithstanding propaganda about their martyrdom at Muslim hands, have a bad record of collaborating with the Saddam regime -- added their signatures to the proposal.
Kurdish politicians have made a colossal error in supporting the Sunni call for a delay in the vote. The Kurds are Sunnis but have angered the Arabs by demanding the latter evacuate Kurdish properties that were occupied by the Arabs at the instance of Saddam, much as the Kosovar Albanians have demanded complete authority over the territory in which they are the majority. Apparently, the Kurdish parties believe they can work a compromise with their Arab foes by supporting the boycott in exchange for Arab assent to their removal from the contested areas; or they imagine that the Sunnis will come out on top in any event. But the fundamentalist elements in the Sunni Arab movement do not like Kurdish Islam, and any alliance between these two elements is destined to be of short duration.
Discussing the outcome of a delay in the vote is doubtless a waste of time because the U.S. will not permit a postponement. Indeed, a postponement, and the vote itself, would probably soon be forgotten, as assent to Sunni pressure would very likely bring about a much bigger and bloodier conflict, if not a full civil war and the breakup of Iraq.
The real issue in the vote is the large Shia majority, which by every measure of democracy should have the right to gain and exercise power in Iraq. Fear and misunderstanding about Iraqi Shias have plagued the Bush administration since the onset of the Iraq intervention. The Shias were viewed as a mass of religious fanatics who sought nothing less than implantation of a rigorous Islamic regime under which the rights of women and minorities would be curtailed.
Those who depicted the Iraqi Shias in such terms either did not know or did not care that Iraqi Shias had rejected Ayatollah Khomeini's scheme for clerical rule when it was first proposed in Iran, and were not about to accept it in Iraq. The Bush administration has slowly and gingerly come to the correct conclusion that the Shias will be the firmest supporters of a democratic transformation in Iraq. If evidence for that was needed, it was provided when the Shia leadership suppressed the rebellion of Moqtada ul-Sadr, the anti-American agitator.
The Shias have correctly demanded that the elections be held on time, and Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has issued a fatwa condemning any Shia who obstructs the process.
Iraq's Sunni spoilers represent a classic type of politician: the power-hungry bluffer. Saddam himself was the same kind of person. Granting any demands by this disreputable gang will merely encourage them and their jihadist allies to worse acts of violence, more extreme atrocities, and the collapse of Iraq altogether. Refusing their demands is a pledge that Iraq can remain unified and gain a stable government.
The Sunni demagogues in Iraq believe that we Americans, like the Europeans, will put a promise of peace before the securing of freedom. They are wrong; Americans have always put freedom ahead of peace, and the freedom of Iraqis to vote, and to elect a majority government, counts more than a brief charade of peace with corrupt Sunni politicians. President Bush and other American leaders have indicated our lack of interest in a delay in Iraq's voting. This is the moment to stick firm; surrender now means surrender to terrorism. The holding of an Iraqi election at the time promised will redeem the American blood shed in the country's liberation.