T-minus 30 and counting...
As the crowds gather later this week in New York, London, Berlin etc to count down the seconds remaining until the New Year (at least according to the Gregorian calendar) tens of thousands of coalition troops and millions of Iraqis will begin their own countdown. The January 30th elections are fast approaching, and only two things are certain. The violence that is ravaging Iraq will only get worse in the days ahead, and the entire world will be watching- some no doubt hoping for failure, but many more praying for success.
Questions still abound at this late date- what will the turnout be overall? Will the Sunnis vote in substantial numbers, or even vote at all? How will absentee votes be handled? Most importantly, how will the results of the election be legitimized? The forces that oppose democracy in Iraq, and by extension the entire Middle East, need not stop the elections, or even drastically reduce the turnout. They need only keep away the international observers who can lend credence to the elections, and the path is cleared for descent into civil war.
The Iraqis have invited the EU, the Arab League, the OSCE and others to observe the elections; but with coalition forces most likely leaving security to the Iraqi military and police to avoid allegations of coercion many groups are reluctant to send observers. According to the Financial Times:
International bodies are only now firming up arrangements to watch the vote. Elections Canada, an independent body, hosted a first meeting of seven national bodies in Ottawa last week to set up a "neutral and impartial mission" for Iraq. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's chief electoral officer, said a final decision on whether to send international observers, or how many, had yet to be made.
History will ultimately view this election, not the 2000 or 2004 U.S. Presidential election, as one of the most important moments in the development of democracy. The legitimacy of the process in Iraq must be established and attested to in order to prove without a doubt that democracy and the Middle East are not anathema. In order for that to occur security needs to be as tight as possible. While 100% security is a pipe dream, the perception of insecurity can be greatly reduced.
I am no drum-beater for the UN, but this is a golden opportunity for the ladies and gentlemen in New York to shine. Regardless of one's opinion of the President, or pre-emptive war, no peace loving nation can deny the importance of these elections. The time has come to put down the slings and arrows, for at least a few weeks, and focus the might of the world on Iraq. Where are the Peace Keepers this nation so badly needs? Options beyond the U.N. include the deployment of peace keeping forces more acceptable to the "insurgents". The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial last week calling for more Muslim troops in Iraq- from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia in particular to help provide security during the election. Many of these troops would be Sunnis, thus in theory acceptable in the Sunni Triangle. I have little doubt that these troops would come under attack, and their national leaders must surely know this. Their unwillingness to put troops in harms way solidifies their tacit approval of the "insurgent" goal of disruption of democratic processes, and is empirical proof that other Sunni Muslims realize, and approve of, the "insurgent" goal of Sunni led civil war.
Critics claimed that elections in Afghanistan were not possible, and they were wrong. Claims that a 30 January election in Iraq is impossible may not be so incorrect. The time has come for the world to decide and act on the following- is access to democracy a priority for all, or just for some? Are basic human rights (and by that I mean truly basic: life and liberty) to be sought for all- men and women, Muslim and Christian, Sunni and Shia? Are the throngs that protested the toppling of an evil man and the destruction of his murderous regime prepared to support the establishment of a democracy in this troubled region? Every reformer in the Middle East and the Muslim world beyond is watching Iraq. Either one group or the other will be disappointed after the election: the group that hopes for liberal reform, and the betterment of all mankind or the group that plots for reform via repression, intolerance and terror.
Let's hope it is the latter.
Happy New Year! T-minus thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight...