- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Bush administration believes that no level of violence or difficulty in Iraq justifies delaying the Jan. 30 elections because doing so would hand a political victory to terrorists.

“We really, truly, deeply need to stick to the schedule,” said a senior Bush administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Any kind of delay is a very bad idea. If we stick to the timetable, we give Iraqis a chance to determine their future.”

President Bush has expressed confidence in the ability of the first free elections in Iraq’s history to begin transforming the Middle East. Democracies, in his opinion, are inherently peaceful and would cease to foster anti-American terrorism.

Although the White House — and even Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi — have admitted that this will not be “a perfect election,” they insist it must take place on schedule.

“Everybody recognizes the stakes involved in Iraq,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “The terrorists recognize the stakes, and the international community recognizes the stakes. The Iraqi people recognize the stakes involved.

“We need to continue to focus our efforts on helping the Iraqi people build a democratic and peaceful future, and that’s exactly what we’re going to continue to do,” he said.

Questions remain, however, about the Iraqi people’s enthusiasm for the election. One prominent Sunni group has called for a boycott of the election, a movement that if successful would largely invalidate the results in the eyes of many international observers.

There also are concerns about having enough ballots and how to prevent fraud. In addition, the threat of violence on election day looms, and might lead to low turnout.

The senior administration official expressed confidence that most of the concerns will be addressed. “It’s way too premature” to say election day violence would scare voters away, the official said.

“All over the world, elections have taken place in the midst of violence,” the official said, adding that “it would be unrealistic for one to think that these elections would be a magic bullet in terms of stopping violence.”

The election itself is more complicated than anything a veteran U.S. voter has encountered.

The ballot to select the 275-member assembly that will begin drafting a new Iraqi constitution will include thousands of names, 111 political parties and be many pages long.

More than 14 million of Iraq’s 26 million citizens have registered to vote, the White House official said.

“Iraqis are very enthused about these elections,” the official said. “All polls we’ve seen indicate that all Iraqis want to vote. They understand the significance of this.”

Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries also will be eligible to vote in the election. More than 100,000 live in the United States, and voting places in Chicago, Washington, Detroit, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tenn., will be set up to accommodate them.

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