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Officials Have Great Hopes for Iraqi Elections

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 8, 2005 – Iraqi and coalition officials have great hopes for the success of Dec. 15 national elections, officials here said on background today.

Senior American officials said the elections are another important step in the evolution of Iraq from a country beat down by 30 years of tyranny to a functioning democracy.

The elections are another opportunity for the Iraqi people to separate themselves from the terrorists who continue to try to intimidate Iraqis. The Iraqi people understand that al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups have only an incidental interest in the country, officials said. These groups see Iraq as simply another battlefield in their war against democracy and freedom. Their ultimate goal is a whole world converted to their brand of Islam, officials said.

Officials believe the Iraqi people see through this. They also believe Sunni Arabs in Iraq will not repeat an earlier mistake and boycott the election.

In January 2005, Sunni groups urged Sunni Arabs not to vote. As a result, Shiite and Kurd populations elected the assembly that wrote the new constitution. In October the majority of Sunnis voted against the constitution, but it still had enough votes to pass.

Officials said that Sunni Arab voter registration is up and that many Sunni Arab groups have expressed support for the process.

Officials cautiously forecast a voter turnout of 50 to 60 percent in the Anbar province. This would be an enormous improvement because, even in the October election, only 4 percent of the population in Ramadi -- the capital of the province -- went to the polls. Terror groups launched a concerted campaign of intimidation in Ramadi, but coalition military officials believe that will not be the case this election.

Any new government is going to be pressed to exercise restraint, officials said. The vast majority of Sunni Arabs believe the constitution is too sectarian, and any new government is going to have to deliver concrete results quickly.

Still, various factions will jockey for position following the election and it will take some time for the Iraqis to set up and form the new government. In addition to choosing leaders, the government must appoint Cabinet ministers and begin developing the processes to rule.

This will not be easy, officials said. Following the January elections, it took about four months for the National Assembly to organize. Coalition officials said they expect the new government will take at least as long to form.

In the meantime, officials expect the elections will mean a long stride down the road to democracy. A generation from now, Iraq may be the lead nation of a stable Middle East, just as the victory in Germany ushered in peace following "hundreds of years of dysfunctionality in Europe," an official said.

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