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Analysts: Security Concerns May Hinder January Elections in Iraq


Despite increasing and more barbaric forms of violence in Iraq, the interim government maintains that national elections will be held in January, as scheduled. Iraq interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is promising to quell the insurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens.

With such incidents as Saturday's execution of dozens of members of the new Iraqi army, daily bombings across the country, mortar attacks against the National Guard, car bomb attacks against Iraqi police, kidnappings and beheadings, a growing number of Iraqis are saying they do not plan to risk their lives in order to cast ballots.

University educated mother of two, Iman Toon, lives in Baghdad. She says she is excited about the idea of being able to vote. But, she says there are three reasons why she may not.

Ms. Toon says she will not go to vote if there are threats made against her and her family; if a polling station is attacked on the day of voting, or if she does not know who the candidates are come election day.

According to the director of Iraq's Center for Strategic Studies in Baghdad, Sadoon Dulami, Ms. Toon is not alone. Three-months ago his center conducted a poll among 2,000 Iraqis.

"Before three months ago, we ask the Iraqis, do you likely participate in the next election? More than 88 [percent] say yes, we are ready. But, two months later those who said yes was just 66 [percent]. And, we are going to ask them next month. I am sure that percentage will be reduced. That means those who are ready to gamble in the election, there are not too much actually," he said.

Mr. Dulami says he is urging the interim government to consider postponing the elections until security can be established. Otherwise, he says, the election will not be viewed as having been legitimate.

The elections are being organized with the help of the United Nations. There are about 30 U.N. workers in Baghdad, but Iraq's Interior Ministry says that is not enough.

"I think the U.N. really has to do more in terms of assisting the Iraqis with this election, if only to insure before the world that its going to be a fair election," said Sabah Kadhim, the senior political adviser to the Interior Ministry. "And, I think its, quite frankly, negligence on their part if they do not do more."

But, according to the chief U.N. electoral officer in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, U.N. election officials were not given the mandate to conduct Iraq's elections. Rather, it is only to assist Iraq's electoral commission. In that regard, he says there are more than enough U.N. workers in Iraq.

"Here, and like most of the electoral assistance projects, we are providing technical assistance," said Mr. Valenzuela. "I was providing technical assistance to Nigerian electoral authorities in a huge project, and there were three of us. I was the only one in Palestine providing technical assistance. There were two of us providing technical assistance to Haitian local elections. So, normally, when you are providing technical assistance you don't have hundreds of people coming in to provide technical assistance."

While acknowledging that the time frame set up by the interim government for holding elections is extremely tight, Mr. Valenzuela says he is confident elections can be held in January, as long as unexpected developments do not hinder the process.

He said there will be about 450 electoral district offices in place when Iraqis go to the polls, with thousands of Iraqis working to help their countrymen fully understand the voting process.

And, regardless of what insurgents in the country do to attempt to derail the elections, there are many Iraqis who say they will risk their lives to vote.

One of them is Baghdad political science professor Abdel Jabbar Abdullah.

"I am going to vote, even if they bomb the ballots, even if they threaten me, because it is my future," he said. "My future does not depend on the American will or the Iraqi government will only. But, my will, because it is the democracy, the rule of the people. Therefore, the Iraqi groups that would refuse to go to election, they must think again that the choice of election is better than the choice of violence."

Almost everyone involved in Iraq's political process say they expect mistakes will occur in the voting process. And, as a result, they believe many Iraqis will not view the elections has having been legitimate.

Some political experts in Iraq have suggested this could lead to an increased level of violence. But others point to the recent elections in Afghanistan, where millions of Afghan citizens voted for the first time in their lives and, despite allegations of fraud, there was no violence.

But it should be noted, the security situation in Afghanistan leading up to elections, was far different than what Iraqis are currently enduring prior to their scheduled elections.

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