- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

The negative consequences of postponing Iraq’s Jan. 30 election are too great to even contemplate, say U.S. officials, who think that any delay would anger most Iraqis and push the bloody insurgency to new heights.

A delay also would cause legal problems, they say, because the country’s Transitional Administrative Law, adopted at the end of the U.S.-led occupation last year, calls for the vote to be held by the end of January.

“Postponing the elections would do nothing to serve the Iraqi people and advance democracy,” one official said. “There is absolutely no alternative.”

Another official said the Bush administration is not even considering policy options that might be necessary should the election not take place as planned.

“There is nothing to gain from a delay,” he said. “We are not even thinking about it.”

The transitional law, which specifically sets Jan. 31 as the latest date for the election, does not give either the interim government or the Independent Election Commission authority to postpone the vote.

The first official, noting that he was making a “wild speculation,” suggested that only the U.N. Security Council could delay the election, under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, if it determines that the vote would jeopardize international peace and security.

Postponing the election also would anger Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, as well as most Kurds, who had pushed for a much earlier vote before the transitional law was adopted, U.S. officials said.

The Jan. 31 deadline was a compromise between the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Iraqi Governing Council and the demands of the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani.

Even though Sunni participation is expected to be limited, current and former U.S. officials say they think that Sunnis, who are about 20 percent of the population, will be well represented in the new government.

Michael Rubin, who worked for the CPA and is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said he was certain that “the Shia and Kurds won’t exclude the Sunni.”

“Sunnis will hold key ministries. There is a lot of backroom dealing among Shia, Kurds and some Sunni politicians about who will take the Interior Ministry after elections,” he said from Baghdad, where he is visiting.

U.S. and Iraqi officials also say that an election delay would encourage the insurgents and terrorists to step up their activities, although they acknowledge the dangers of the current situation.

At least two Iraqi ministers have called for postponing the election, arguing that the daily violence will keep many voters away from the polling places.

“If it is Jan. 30 or six months later, if that really makes a difference in the improvement [of the situation], why not?” Displacement and Migration Minister Pascale Warda said.

Mr. Warda joined a similar call made earlier by Defense Minister Hazem al-Shaalan.

The radical Ansar al-Sunna Army and two other terrorist groups have warned Iraqis not to vote in the Jan. 30 election, asserting that democracy is un-Islamic.

Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said if the election were to be delayed, “Iraqis must be seen as the ones making the decision, not Washington.”

“We must all make clear that the postponement is a one-time thing, for a specific and finite period of time, and get Sunni Arab politicians to agree — prior to public announcement of the delay — that they will make full use of the delay to prepare for elections vigorously,” he said.

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