The decision by Iraqi officials to hold national elections as scheduled on Jan. 30 could be the strongest offensive yet against the insurgents’ war against a free, independent Iraq, and resolutely tells terrorists: You may kill and intimidate some of us, but you cannot and will not kill and intimidate all of us. Nothing you do will halt this country’s course toward a freely elected government.
Thus, the decision by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq to go ahead with a national vote — even in areas of the country under siege from insurgent cutthroats — sets the stage for the ultimate battle between the forces of self-government and the disease of evil, hate and tyranny.
Yes, voting in the worst terror-infested regions may be nearly impossible, but that must not deter the majority of Iraqis from going to the polls to choose a legislative body to represent them and write a governing constitution.
Earlier this month at a Hoover Institution forum at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., I met with a dozen Iraqi journalists and civic leaders who were on a State Department-sponsored tour to study how our elections are run and the role of the news media in our elective process.
These were brave, well-educated, articulate men and women who were risking their lives to save their country from barbarism, and a few voiced doubts about how free elections could be held so soon while the country was in such turmoil.
It was hard to know what to say to them, except to remind them that democracy, even under the best of circumstances, can often be a messy, frustrating business. I told them that we, too, have had voter fraud and corruption here and that no one should think less of their elections if they experience similar abuses in what is turning out to be a confusing multi-party election.
As Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said in his address to a joint session of Congress, Iraq’s elections “will not be perfect.” No one should expect them to be. And no one should think them illegitimate if it turns out that violence and threats prevented voting in certain jurisdictions.
I also reminded the Iraqis of the enormous power of a free electorate against the forces of despotism, which we saw in Nicaragua after years of civil war in the 1980s between the Communist Sandinista guerrillas and the U.S.-backed Contras who were fighting for a democratic government, too. At the end of that country’s long, bitter struggle, Nicaraguans bravely lined up to vote even when they were being fired upon by remnants of the Sandinista terrorists who hoped to thwart that country’s elections through intimidation and fear.
Today, we see Iraq largely through a news media prism of death and dismemberment, roadside bombs, fire and rubble. What we do not see are the 122 political organizations or parties that have sprung up since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the movement toward full and free elections.
“We have so many parties, so many people wanting to participate, it is wonderful. I am happy,” said Farid Ayar, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission.
So many parties vying for votes may look and sound chaotic, but it is really part of the natural process that is to be expected in a country’s first taste of political freedom. “Many of the parties are expected to combine in loose coalitions as they seek to maximize their seats in a new national assembly,” writes Betsy Pisik of The Washington Times (for full disclosure, it’s also the newspaper I write for).
Even so, the array of political parties looks daunting, representing Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians; secular parties who have religious or regional interests; parties headed by sheiks or clerics; parties whose platforms are about basic political yearnings like justice, democracy or equal rights.
Let’s not sugarcoat what lies ahead in these elections. Candidates for office will be killed, voters will be threatened and no doubt murdered for taking part in this country’s fledgling movement toward representative self-government. But no matter what the terrorists may do, they are not going to stop these elections from taking place. That much is certain.
The desire to be free, as President Bush is fond of saying, is a powerful force, more powerful than the barbarian minority that seeks to impose its will on the Iraqi people with bombs and beheadings. Thus, the voters and the candidates will be warriors in this battle, too.
Let the campaign begin.