- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2005

By any measure, the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq represent an important, positive step in the process of replacing one of the world’s most odious dictatorships with with a democratic Arab nation. Terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi (who has declared war against democracy for Iraqis) and some of the harsher critics of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war elsewhere have attempted to depict the new Iraqi government as a puppet of Washington. But the argument is nonsense.

If most American officials had their way, they would have probably preferred that the Iraqis had voted for relatively secular parties like the one headed by current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, rather than the party that actually won a plurality of the votes and a small majority in Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly: the United Iraqi Alliance, a primarily Shi’ite coalition of candidates selected in consultation with Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, which won approximately 48 percent of the 8.5 million votes cast, according to the official results made public last week. But it is Iraqis — not the American government — who now call the shots. And while they voted to give the UIA more votes by far than any other political group, they also voted to put significant constraints on the coalition’s ability to do as it wishes.

An alliance of Kurdish parties won 26 percent; while candidates aligned with Mr. Allawi came in third, with approximately 14 percent. The remaining 900,000 votes were split between scores of smaller parties and political coalitions that also contested the election. Twelve political parties and coalitions won seats in the 275-member TNA. As a result, no single Iraqi political group commands the two-thirds majority necessary to choose Iraq’s Presidency Council, a three-member body which will appoint a prime minister, who will exercise most executive powers. The prime minister must then be approved by a majority in the TNA.

The TNA will draw up a constitution, which will be submitted to a referendum on Oct. 15. The goal is to have a new Iraqi government elected and in place by Dec. 31.

If this succeeds, it would constitute a stunning change in the balance of forces between America and the Islamofascists. It would mean that, in less than three years, Iraq would have been transformed from one of the world’s worst despotisms into a functioning democratic state. The immediate challenge is to break the back of the terrorist insurgency which is doing its level best to prevent Iraqi Sunnis from exercising their right to vote.

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