Conditions Set for Successful Iraqi Election, Officials Say
By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2005 Iraqi and coalition forces have set the conditions for a successful Dec. 15 parliamentary election in Iraq that will be mostly free of violence, U.S. officials said today.
The officials also said a broad and representative cross-section of the Iraqi population, including Sunnis, will participate
"By and large, with the exception of the al Anbar province, (we) are very confident that there will be a large turnout and little or no violence," Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said.
Even in Anbar, "we expect better turnout this time than we saw in the (Oct. 15 constitutional) referendum. By and large, the Iraqis have pulled this together, both from an election logistics perspective and from a security perspective," he said in an interview with Fox News Channel's Bret Baier.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, also speaking on Sunday talk shows, agreed that Iraq's political and security situation has improved significantly in recent months.
"The Sunnis seem to be developing confidence in the political process," Khalilzad said. "That is really the single most important development of the past several months politically. ... They believe that their grievances can be dealt with politically."
Indeed, two Sunni political alliances are on the ballot in the Dec. 15 election. Khalilzad predicted that they will net between 40 and 55 seats in the new assembly. Most Sunni Arabs, by contrast, did not participate in October's constitutional referendum, he said.
It is unlikely that any single party will win an outright majority of assembly seats. Consequently, negotiations, compromises, cooperation, and coalition-building will be required, Khalilzad said. "The next assembly will have various groups. They will have to form coalitions. The concerns of various parties will have to be dealt with, and I think it will be very positive for the future of Iraq," he said.
However, both Casey and Khalilzad cautioned that, for the foreseeable future at least, Iraq will continue to be bedeviled by a terrorist insurgency and will require sustained American assistance, which can be steadily reduced over time.
"There will be violence on election day because the terrorists and insurgents understand that this is their last chance to stop the (democratic) process" in Iraq, Casey said. "To withdraw (coalition forces) from Iraq precipitously would be catastrophic, not only for Iraq but for the entire region."
Khalilzad said that such a withdrawal likely would result in three negative scenarios: a Sunni-Shiite civil war, an independent Kurdistan that breaks apart from the Iraqi state, and a mini-terrorist state within Iraq similar to what the Taliban had in Afghanistan before the arrival of U.S. forces.
To avert these potential disasters, Khalilzad counseled patience.
"The things we are doing here normally would take a very long time, generations," he said. "I'm very much aware of the fact that (the United States is) a very impatient country. ... We have taken on something extremely difficult, yet extremely important. So I do urge a degree of patience."
Building a democracy in Iraq is very important, he continued. "It can have a significant effect on the future of the whole region, ... on the future of the world," he said. "We are headed in the right direction."
Casey agreed. The terrorist-insurgents, he predicted, won't stop this week's election, "and the Iraqis will have (taken) another great step toward a democratic future."
This war "is very much winnable," Casey said. "Our strategy leads to a gradual reduction in the coalition presence as Iraqi security force capabilities improve.
The Iraqis are getting better and better," he noted.
To maintain this progress, Casey said, U.S. transition teams will remain embedded with Iraqi military and police units, even as U.S. forces begin to withdraw from Iraq. Reductions in U.S. troops levels "will be tied to improvements in the capabilities of Iraqi security forces and evaluations of the situation on the ground," he explained. "I'm not getting pressure from Washington to do this. This is bottom-up."
Indeed, because U.S. troops withdrawals are occurring gradually over time, almost 400,000 security forces will be in Iraq for this election. "That's not an insignificant number," Casey said.
The coalition's top commanding general also dismissed concerns that shadowy militia types might be infiltrating Iraq's military. They're "not extensive in the (Iraqi) armed forces," he said
Five of Iraq's 10 military divisions are, by design, representative of the country's ethnic and religious population, and they operate nationally, Casey said. The other five divisions operate locally in the region from which they are recruited.
Militia infiltration of Iraqi police units, though, is a concern, Casey said. It's not really a problem for routine, daily police work. However, it might be a problem in a crisis situation, he explained, because you don't know whether the policeman is loyal to the local chief of police or some militia leader.
He said officials are very concerned about this issue and will work to address it in 2006.