In Denial on Iraqi Elections

I got to give Bush an A for stubbornness. No matter what he seems to be determined that Iraqis will vote on January 30th. Almost all the Sunnis will stay home. There is little incentive for them to vote because they would almost certainly lose power they have traditionally held under Saddam. It is likely be that most of the Kurds will stay home too. Only the Shi’ites are likely to go to the polls in significant numbers. This is because they know their time has come. They are the majority in Iraq and have long been discriminated against and oppressed. But even many Shi’ites will stay away. Repeated targeting of election workers as well as broader threats that anyone who votes in Iraq risk their lives will be hard to ignore. The insurgents have frequently demonstrated that they mean what they say.

We have 150,000 troops in the country. Extra troops were sent to Iraq to help stabilize the country so elections could be held. Clearly the extra troops haven’t stabilized the country. The insurgency appears to be worse than ever. Even our victories come at a terrible price. Fallujah, for example, was largely destroyed in an effort to make its safe. Most of its residents are still refugees. And there are still insurgents sniping at our forces within Fallujah itself.

Across Iraq U.S. soldiers, election workers, police officers, mayors, low lying political officials and many innocent Iraqi citizens have paid the price for our inability to secure the country after our invasion. But this won’t stop Bush from holding elections anyhow. What we will see on January 30th is likely to be farcical. We are likely to see violence on a scale hitherto unseen in Iraq since we started this unnecessary war.

Safety and security are prerequisites not just for elections but to the emergence of any civil society. But even if these elements were in place as Bush has promised repeatedly there is still no guarantee that elections would have their desired effect. One problem is the way power is to be distributed in the new Iraqi assembly. It won’t work. A realistic plan would address the reality of Iraq. In a workable solution Iraq would become a federation of independent states. While there are many mixed areas of Iraq, the reality is that Iraq is divided between predominantly Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish areas. A federation with a weak central government and strong, largely autonomous states where the primary religious and ethnic authorities would dominate might actually bring peace and stability. But it is equally likely that Iran would like to annex Shi’ite portions of Iraq, in effect finally winning the Iran-Iraq war. It is likely that balkanization along ethnic lines that cross country boundaries would bring the highest likelihood of long term stability.

Here’s what will likely happen on January 30th. Large areas of Iraq will have no polling stations. Polling officials will not show up out of the logical fear that they will be killed. Most Iraqis who are eligible to vote won’t show up either, also largely out of fear. Shi’ites will likely show up but I would still be surprised if their overall turnout rate was more than 50%. There will be a lot of voters and election workers (probably a hundred or more) killed or wounded. Across Iraq I would be very surprised if turnout exceeded 25%.

It remains to be seen whether if after this farce we will acknowledge the obvious: elections were premature. The difference between lofty promises and reality will be hard to ignore. Despite the best efforts of our brave soldiers to help this troubled land we cannot through force change in Iraq. With 300,000 soldiers in Iraq we could perhaps have a true measure of security across the country. But we do not have those numbers of troops to commit to Iraq. So the anarchy will continue. You can expect over 2005 as the carnage continues that calls for us to leave Iraq will increase. The sad reality of Iraq is that order cannot be imposed on it from the outside.

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