- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2005

On Nov. 2 in the United States, Americans showed up at the polls in record numbers. More than 120 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, believing this past election was one of the most important in their lifetimes. They had a personal stake in the outcome and found time to get to the polls. Some stood in line several hours.

On Jan. 30, Iraqis will vote for the first time in more than 50 years to elect a National Assembly and install a new government in a country that only two years ago was ruled by a repressive, brutal dictator. Much is at stake in the Iraqi election, to be sure. And one of the most important thresholds of success will be determined by whether the elections take place on time. Some want to postpone the elections and cite the terrorist violence which, they say, threatens the outcome and the ability of Iraqis to vote.

Adnan Pachachi, former foreign minister of Iraq, argues the elections should be delayed several months, though he readily admits “there is merit in the argument” that delaying the elections would give a victory to the terrorists.

That the terrorists are causing more violence is evidence of the progress of the coalition and the Iraqi people to bring about democratic reform in this country. It is something this column has been predicting for months — the closer we get to the scheduled election, the more violence we are likely to see.

The last thing the terrorists want on Jan. 30 is a free and democratic election in Iraq because that will not only empower 28 million Iraqis but send a signal to citizens of other repressed countries in the region that a democratic government can exist and thrive in the Middle East.

Showing their determination to prevent the elections, terrorists have stepped up bombing attacks and even assassinated Ali al-Haidari, governor of Baghdad. The pessimists in the press see this as an opportunity to give in to the terrorists’ demands and delay the scheduled elections. As if after a few more months of violence the terrorists will give up and surrender.

During a briefing this week on security operations in Baghdad by Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Multinational Division in Baghdad and the commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, a Dallas Morning News reporter said what is on the minds of too many reporters and pundits these days. “Given the security situation,” he asked, “why wouldn’t it make sense for these elections to be postponed?”

Gen. Chiarelli gave two reasons. First, like those desperate to taste freedom throughout history, the Iraqi people, according to polls, overwhelmingly want to vote on the fate of their nation Jan. 30. In Afghanistan, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and even in the first days of our own Republic, the desire to be free has led men and women not only to line up at the polls but to go “once more unto the breach,” as Shakespeare put it.

Second, Gen. Chiarelli had a message for terrorists who believe they can disrupt the election: “We will find you; we will watch where you move; we will listen to you speaking to each other; we will fight; and we will defeat you. You cannot sleep, eat, move or meet without the clear understanding that you may be killed or captured at any moment. Cease your operations now and you will be choosing to live,” he cautioned them.

That sentiment was echoed by Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who has held firm on a Jan. 30 deadline and once again stated his solid commitment for the elections to be held on that date. “The government is committed to holding the elections on schedule. We know some Iraqis fear voting, but we have to overcome those fears,” he said.

Some 14 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the elections. Even Iraqi citizens living in the United States and other countries will be eligible to cast a ballot. When they go to the estimated 6,000 polling places or cast a remote ballot, they will select from more than 7,000 candidates for 275 legislative seats.

Postponing the legislative elections would delay a whole process, or series of elections. The January election will put in place the legislature whose first responsibility will be to draft a new constitution for Iraq. They will do so by Aug. 15. Once that is done, the proposed constitution will be voted on in a national referendum by the deadline of Oct. 15.

After the new constitution is approved, another national election will occur Dec. 15, and a new Iraqi government will take office Dec. 31.

The Jan. 30 Iraqi election is the first step in an important series that will “set the course for generations to come,” as Gen. Chiarelli said. History is not easy to make, but on Jan. 30, the Iraqi people will have their chance.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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