WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On Nov. 2, here in the United States, Americans showed up at the polls in record numbers. Over 120 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, believing that this past election was one of the most important elections in their lifetime. They had a personal stake in the outcome and found time to get to the polls. Some even sacrificed by standing in line for several hours.
On Jan. 30 in Iraq, elections will take place for the first time in over 50 years to elect a National Assembly and install a new government in a country that only two years ago was ruled by a repressive, brutal dictator. There is a lot at stake in the Iraqi election, to be sure -- and one of the most important thresholds of success will be determined by whether or not the elections actually take place on time. Some want to postpone the elections and cite the terrorist violence, which they say, threatens the outcome and the ability of Iraqis to vote.
Adnan Pachachi, the former foreign minister of Iraq, argues that the elections should be delayed for several months, though he readily admits "there is merit in the argument" that delaying the elections would give a victory to the terrorists.
The fact that the terrorists are causing more violence is evidence of the success the coalition and the Iraqi people are making to bring about democratic reform in this country. It is something this column has been predicting for months -- the closer we get to the scheduled election date, the more we are likely to see an increase in violence.
The last thing the terrorists want on Jan. 30 is for a free and democratic election to take place in Iraq because that will not only empower 28 million Iraqis, it will send a signal to citizens of other repressed countries in the region that a democratic government can exist and thrive in the Middle East.
Showing their determination to prevent the elections, terrorists have stepped up their bombing attacks and even carried out an assassination on Ali Al-Haidari, the governor of Baghdad. The pessimists in the press see this as an opportunity to give in to the demands of the terrorists and delay the scheduled elections -- as if that's really what the terrorists want -- a few more months of violence before they give up and surrender.
During a briefing this week on security operations in Baghdad, conducted by Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the Multinational Division in Baghdad and the commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News asked what is on the minds of too many reporters and pundits these days.
"Given the security situation," he asked, "why wouldn't it make sense for these elections to be postponed?"
Chiarelli gave two reasons. First, like those desperate to taste freedom throughout history, the Iraqi people, according to polls conducted in the country, overwhelmingly want to vote on the fate of their nation on Jan. 30. In Afghanistan, Nicaragua, El Salvador and even to the first days of our own Republic, the desire to be free has led men and women to not only line up at the polls, but "once more unto the breach," as Shakespeare put it.
Second, Chiarelli had a message for terrorists who believe they can disrupt the election. "We will find you; we will watch where you move; we will listen to you speaking to each other; we will fight; and we will defeat you. You cannot sleep, eat, move or meet without the clear understanding that you may be killed or captured at any moment. Cease your operations now, and you will be choosing to live," he cautioned them.
That sentiment was echoed by Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who has held firm on a Jan. 30 deadline and once again stated his solid commitment that the elections would take place on that date. "The government is committed to holding the elections on schedule. We know some Iraqis fear voting, but we have to overcome those fears," he said.
Some 14 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the elections. Even Iraqi citizens living in the United States and other countries will be eligible to cast a ballot. When they show up to the estimated 6,000 polling places or cast a remote ballot, they will select from more than 7,000 candidates for 275 legislative seats.
To postpone the January legislative elections would be to postpone a whole process, or series of elections. The January election will put in place the legislature whose first responsibility will be to draft a new constitution for Iraq. They will do so by Aug. 15, 2005. Once that is completed, the proposed constitution will be voted on in a national referendum by the deadline established as Oct. 15, 2005.
Once the new constitution is approved, another national election will occur on Dec. 15, 2005, and a new Iraqi government will take office on Dec. 31.
The Iraqi election on Jan. 30 is the first in an important series that will "set the course for generations to come," as Chiarelli said. History is not easy to make, but on Jan. 30, the Iraqi people will have their chance.