Friday, February 11, 2005

Former President Jimmy Carter, who predicted that elections in Iraq would fail and in the past year described the Bush administration’s policy there as a quagmire, this week ended 10 days of silence to declare the historic Iraqi vote “a very successful effort.”

“I hope that we’ll have every success in Iraq,” Mr. Carter said in a CNN interview. “And that election, I think, was a surprisingly good step forward.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s comments on Wednesday contradicted his September assertion that the Iraq elections could not be held by January and ended a period during which the Georgia Democrat’s failure to comment prompted one critic to gloat about the election success “shaming him into silence.”

Last year, in venues ranging from CNN to National Public Radio, Mr. Carter predicted that Iraq would not be ready for a January election, compared the situation there to the Vietnam War and implied that “the control of oil” was a major reason for the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

“I personally do not believe we will be ready for an election in January,” Mr. Carter told Katie Couric Sept. 30 on NBC’s “Today” show.

The United States, he said, should “go through the election and then withdraw American troops as rapidly as possible. … Get us out of there.”

As recently as three weeks ago, Mr. Carter predicted low turnout and an unrepresentative result for the Iraq election.

“Whether it’s 30 percent turnout or 50 percent turnout, almost entirely Shi’ites and Kurds and just a very few Sunnis, I think, the White House will claim it’s a success,” Mr. Carter told Matt Lauer on the “Today” show on Jan. 19.

It is estimated that 60 percent of eligible Iraqis voted in that nation’s first free elections in more than 50 years. Mr. Carter was correct in predicting low Sunni turnout. Results of the voting, which still are being tabulated, will determine the 275-member transitional national assembly. The assembly will draft a new constitution and select the country’s next prime minister.

On Wednesday, even while lauding the Iraqi elections, Mr. Carter reiterated concerns about Shi’ite domination, telling CNN that “the Sunnis almost refused to participate and played a very small role in the most troubled and I’ll say violent areas of Iraq.”

He added: “Now the question is, will this be a Shi’ite-dominated religious organization formed as the next government, or will it be a democratic secular one? And will there be some way to encourage the Sunnis to come back in and participate?”

During the fall presidential election campaign, Mr. Carter repeatedly condemned the invasion of Iraq — an “unjust and completely unnecessary war,” he called it in a Sept. 23 interview with NPR’s Tavis Smiley. On that program, Mr. Carter said, “The war has now degenerated, I think, into as much of a quagmire as was Vietnam,” and laid out his own proposal for peace in Iraq.

“What we have to do, obviously, is to create a peaceful environment there where at least the United Nations, with its courageous representatives, can come in and help conduct an honest election,” said Mr. Carter, adding that he did not “see any possibility of this happening” in time for the January elections.

After about 8 million Iraqis went to the polls, Mr. Carter’s September prediction that Iraq would not be ready for elections by Jan. 30 — “there is no security there,” he said — was cited by conservative commentators including Mark Steyn and Ann Coulter as proof of liberal wrongheadedness. His silence in the 10 days after the election was greeted with derision by Bush supporters.

“We’d love to hear Jimmy Carter say, ‘I was wrong,’ but even we aren’t idealistic enough to think that’s going to happen in this lifetime,” the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto said in a postelection comment. “Still, shaming him into silence is almost as great an achievement as bringing democracy to the heart of the Arab world. Chalk up another triumph for George W. Bush.”

At the Democratic National Convention in July, Mr. Carter shared box seats with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Mr. Carter’s remarks in television interviews suggest that he also shared Mr. Moore’s belief that the U.S. military intervention in Iraq was largely motivated by the Bush administration’s desire to control that nation’s oil supply.

In a Dec. 9 appearance on PBS, Mr. Carter said the United States must “be able to share or willing to share the political future of Iraq and the economic future of Iraq with other countries, including the control of oil” — a possibility he called “unlikely.”

“I cannot imagine the Bush administration being willing to do that,” Mr. Carter told Charlie Rose.

• Researchers John Sopko and Clark Eberly contributed to this report.

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