- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

On Sunday, the people of Iraq — a country less than two years removed from Saddam Hussein’s crushing dictatorship — will take a major step toward establishing a new, democratic government when they go to the polls. Three elections will actually take place on Sunday: In one, which will occur, in autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, voters will elect a Kurdish National Assembly that will unite dual administrations in that part of the country. The second election will occur in Iraq’s 18 provinces, where voters will choose members of provincial councils. In the third — and for our purposes, the most important of the elections — voters will choose 275 members of a Transitional National Assembly. The TNA has a goal of 25 percent female representation: 69 members.

It is important to understand several things about Sunday’s elections. One is that results of the elections will not be known until 10 to 12 days later. They will not magically stop the terrorist insurgency plaguing the country for the past year and a half. And they are just the first step in what will be a transitional process that will culminate in the election of a new Iraqi government that will assume responsibility for governing the country by Dec. 31, 2005.

The TNA, which will be seated by the middle of next month, will serve as Iraq’s national legislature during a transitional period. It will also, by a two-thirds vote, elect a three-member Presidency Council, consisting of a president and two vice presidents. The Presidency Council will, by unanimous agreement, appoint a prime minister. The TNA is also required to approve the appointment of a prime minister by a simple majority vote. The TNA will draw up a constitution by Aug. 15 of this year which is to be submitted to a referendum on Oct. 15. Elections pursuant to the constitution are to be held on Dec. 15, with a new Iraqi government to take over 16 days later. If the constitution is rejected, their would be new TNA elections by Dec. 15.

As of Monday, there were more than 110 lists representing approximately 7,800 candidates competing for TNA seats. (By way of comparison, 47 parties, most of them representing Sunnis, who make up roughly 20 percent of the electorate, have said that they are boycotting the election.) When the Kurdish and regional elections are included, more than 250 political groups comprised of close to 19,000 candidates had submitted candidate lists. More than 14.5 million Iraqis are eligible to vote. Iraqis will be served by more than 5,200 polling centers, 1,400 of which are located in Baghdad. There are five or six polling booths at each center. Approximately 7,000 Iraqi election officials will oversee the voting, with technical assistance being provided by 100 international observers — 40 of them from the United Nations. More than 190,000 poll workers will be on hand at the polling stations in Iraq.

The most prominent Iraqi parties and candidates include (background information courtesy of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) the United Iraqi Coalition, headed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, which consists of 228 candidates among 16 parties, made up of Arab Shi’ites and Sunnis and Kurdish Shi’ites, among others. The head of the list is Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the prominent Shiite organization known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Other members include Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress. Other parties include the Iraqi National Accord Party, headed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi; the Kurdish Alliance, a list consisting of 12 parties and 165 candidates from the major Kurdish factions; the Independent Democratic Movement, headed by former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi; the Iraqi Party, headed by President Ghazi al-Yawar. Monarchist and Iraqi Communist Party groups are also competing in the elections, and several Sunni groups who are boycotting the elections remain on the ballot.

Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, writing in The Washington Post, pointed to four key objectives that should guide U.S. policy-makers in the coming months and years, as they deal with the dramatic changes that are coming to Iraq: 1) preventing any group ( in other words, the Shi’ites) from using the political process to gain the same amount of power the Sunnis previously had; 2) preventing areas of the country from becoming havens for terrorists; 3) keeping Shi’ite government in Iraq from becoming a theocracy; and 4) leaving scope for regional autonomy for groups (such as the Kurds.) We wholeheartedly agree.

One of the more spirited defenses of democracy for the Iraqi people came from an unlikely place: London’s Guardian newspaper. William Shawcross on Monday likened Abu Musab Zarqawi and his confederates to the Nazis. Mr. Shawcross wrote that: “The horrific war against the Iraqi people is run by the same people who oppressed and tortured them for decades — Saddam’s henchmen…They are more than ably abetted by the Islamofascist jihadists led by Osama bin Laden’s Heydrich in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” Indeed, when you look at the kind of people who are trying to stop Iraqis from voting, you realize how important the events of the next 11 months will be to the people of that country — and to the worldwide campaign against Islamofascism.

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