Countdown to Iraqi Election Reaches Final Month
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2004 One month from today, the Iraqi people will go to the polls in their country's first open, direct, multiparty legislative elections in more than 50 years.
An estimated 13.9 million Iraqis are eligible to cast ballots, and U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials are committed to ensuring that the election process remains on track.
"We are absolutely committed to the Jan. 30 election date," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a Dec. 22 news conference at the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Marines in Fallujah during a surprise Dec. 24 visit that it's "a tough situation in Iraq." Yet, he predicted, the Marines and other U.S. servicemembers will be proud of their accomplishments after Iraqis take control of their destiny and become a free, democratic nation.
Secretary of State Colin Powell echoed those sentiments during Dec. 28 television interviews, noting that the Iraqi people want to choose the future leaders of their country and deserve to have that opportunity.
"This is not the time to let the tyrants and the terrorists take us back to the past, to the days of a Saddam Hussein-type regime," Powell said. "The people of Iraq want their own freely elected government."
But that road is not expected to be without its share of speed bumps, officials acknowledged.
During a Dec. 28 news conference in Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey W. Hammond, the 1st Cavalry Division's assistant commander for support, told reporters violence is expected during the elections. "We anticipate that the enemy will express his will in the election process through attacks, intimidation, assassinations and other methods designed to destroy life in Baghdad," Hammond said. "He has a vote in things."
Muddying the waters has been speculation as to whether the Sunnis will go to the polls in strong numbers, given the security concerns in predominantly Sunni areas. This speculation was heightened by the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party's recent announcement that it will not participate in the elections due to concerns about the feasibility of holding the vote in the face of the violence.
Powell said coalition and Iraqi forces are focused on bringing security to the Sunni-dominated cities, and he said he hopes the Iraqi Islamic Party will review the situation as elections draw nearer and reconsider its decision.
"If they don't participate in this election, they're denying themselves the opportunity to speak for the future of their country and how they're going to be led and who their leaders are going to be," he said.
Referring to a recently released audiotape on which a man claiming to be Osama bin Laden praises fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for his deadly operations against the Iraqi people, Powell commented, "We now have two murderers, two terrorists, two thugs, talking to each other."
The secretary said it was no surprise that bin Laden and Zarqawi would call for a boycott of the elections. "The last thing they want to see is the Iraqi people stepping forward and deciding who would be their leaders. They don't want democracy. They want tyranny," he said.
Powell acknowledged the elections likely would not bring an end to the violence, because the insurgents are determined to fight every step of Iraq's progress toward a fully representative government. He added, however, that the Iraqi forces currently in training will eventually be in a position to bring the insurgency under control.
The Jan. 30 elections will determine the composition of the 275-seat Transitional National Assembly, which will be charged with the task of writing a permanent constitution. After the constitution is approved in a general referendum, it will serve as the template for the formation of a new, permanent Iraqi government. Voters also will cast ballots for representatives on regional governorate councils.
(David Shelby, a writer for the State Department Washington File, contributed to this article.)