- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

Election delay urged

Three Iraqi activists called on the United States to delay the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, but not for the reason advocated by some of their colleagues who worry religious minorities will not participate.

They fear a religious party will win the election and impose a theocratic government like Iran’s.

“People in Washington have convinced themselves that the election will end the Iraqi problem,” said Ismail Ibrahim Hamoudi al-Shaikli on a recent visit to The Washington Times.

Mr. al-Shaikli and his two colleagues from the Iraqi National Gathering, a secular political party, warned that a victory by a party representing the Muslim Shi’ite majority of the Iraqi population could lead to disaster.

Referring to the Muslim term for religious leaders, he said, “If the mullahs win and the Americans say, ‘All right, goodbye,’ it will be like Iran.”

Mr. al-Shaikli, Kamal H. Mahmoud al-Jebouri and Sullaf Sabih Hussain al-Kuraishi proposed delaying the elections for at least a year and called on the U.S.-led coalition to stay in Iraq as long as it takes to stabilize the country.

“If the Americans leave, a civil war could start,” said Mr. al-Shaikli, who acted as a spokesman for the group.

They fear that Iraqi Shi’ite leaders secretly share the religious goal of Iran’s Shi’ite rulers of creating a Shi’ite empire that would transcend national boundaries.

They also worry about the future of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, whom Mr. al-Shaikli called an “able, secular and determined” leader.

“But the U.S. put him in a bad position by asking him to do the dirty job of imposing order and collecting weapons” from armed factions, he said.

The three Iraqi activists say they want a Western-style democracy that protects civil rights and guarantees protection for women and religious minorities.

They were in Washington to show their support for the Iranian resistance, which held a large rally on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19.

Mr. al-Shaikli said the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its military wing, Mujahedeen Khalq, or the People’s Mujahedeen, hold out hope for a democratic Iran. He also said he hopes National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as future secretary of state, would remove the People’s Mujahedeen from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The Clinton administration put the group on the list when trying to improve relations with the Iranian regime.

“The Mujahedeen has been misunderstood and mistreated and placed on the list for political considerations,” Mr. al-Shaikli said.

U.S. forces disarmed the Mujahedeen, which operated from a base camp in Iraq, and now has the fighters under U.S. protective custody.

Norwegian lights

The Norwegian Embassy’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony at Union Station tonight is more than just a festival of dangling ornaments and twinkling stars.

Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek said the celebration is his country’s way of thanking the United States for liberating Norway during World War II.

The festival began eight years ago under Mr. Vollebaek’s predecessor, Tom Eric Vraalsen, who had served as ambassador to Britain, where the tradition began. The Norwegian Christmas at Union Station has since become an unofficial start of the Washington holiday season.

The festival opened two days before Thanksgiving, but tonight’s public tree lighting is the high point of the three-week ceremony.

Norway’s Princess Martha Louise will flip a switch to turn on 8,000 lights on a 30-foot-tall tree in the Main Hall.

Christmas is a major religious holiday in Norway, the ambassador said.

“Also, it’s dark in Norway in the winter,” he added. “We need lights.”

For more information on the festival, call 202/333-6000 or visit the Web site (www.norway.org/xmas04).

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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