January 24, 2005 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Defying Doom

There are those out there - and you know who you are - more interested in seeing the Bush administration fail in Iraq than in seeing democracy succeed.

Sorry, oracles of doom: You're about to be disappointed.

A just-released poll by the National Endowment for Democracy's highly-respected International Republican Institute (IRI) suggests that Sunday's Iraqi elections will be much more successful than the nattering nabobs of negativity predict.

IRI conducted the poll Dec. 26 to Jan. 7 in 16 (of 18) Iraqi provinces. It shows that "anticipated participation numbers among Iraqis remain consistent [with previous polls], with over 80 percent stating that they are very likely or somewhat likely to vote on Jan. 30."

Contrast that 80 percent turnout with our own 60 percent turnout last November - America's highest since 1968.

There's more: The survey also indicates that more than half of all Iraqis living in the troubled Sunni areas - and nearly half of the Sunnis, themselves - are "likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote.

In other words, despite the violence, Iraq's Sunni minority will ultimately decide it's better to be inside the tent than outside when the new national assembly drafts a constitution later this year.

In addition, nearly half of those polled (45 percent) say they now support or identify strongly with a political party running in the election, a threefold increase since May.

The survey also relates that: "Iraqis remain optimistic about the future of their country as they anticipate their first post-Saddam democratic elections." Some 52 percent said they think the country will be better off in six months. And 60 percent expect conditions to improve in a year. Even more (65 percent) are optimistic about Iraq five years out.

And though security remains a critical issue, the economy is growing in importance. The survey found that the government is "credited with improving salaries and the overall economic environment."

Just staging this national election will be a tremendous success in itself. The Iraqis are defiant in the face of the insurgency:

* Even under constant insurgent and terrorist threat, more than 7,500 candidates from as many as 111 political parties will run for 275 National Assembly seats and 18 provincial councils.

* Nearly 100,000 police and soldiers will guard as many as 6,000 polling stations in a country the size of California.

* 12 million Iraqis, including women, out of 14 million eligible, have registered to vote during the heat of an insurgency.

* 1.2 million Iraqis may vote from abroad in 14 countries, including as many as 230,000 in America alone.

Now, this is all promising news, a ray of sunshine bursting through the dark clouds of the insurgency. But no one is going to tell you that Sunday's process will be perfect. Frustrating these elections may well be the last hope for insurgents and terrorists in Iraq. The latest tape from al Qaeda's Abu Musab al Zarqawi just confirms what we already knew: They're sure to give it their evil all - marring the voting with maximum violence and widespread carnage if possible.

The absence of the United Nations -- and the failure of many nations to join the Coalition - as Iraqis go to the polls is as dramatic as it is disappointing. Even though the election is a U.N. mandate, only about 25 U.N. staff (and no European Union personnel) are in Iraq to provide pre-election technical assistance.
There's still some heavy lifting to do as well. Now's the time for the Coalition to press the offensive - the best way to delay, hinder or prevent the terrorists' schemes to kill innocents and disrupt the elections.

We must turn up the volume on our public diplomacy, too. The U.S.-funded Arabic-language TV channel al Hurra (Arabic for "The Free One") is already playing a key role by giving airtime to Iraqi candidates, and making election-related public-service announcements.

Washington must also call upon Muslim leaders everywhere to encourage Iraqis to vote. Most of them won't do so, seeing it as counter to their own repressive interests. But the people of the Muslim world, deserving political reform, should hear their silence.
The first (real) democratic elections in Iraqi history will set another precedent for the Middle East. They'll serve as yet another reminder, like Afghanistan, that democracy, Islam and the Muslim world are indeed compatible.

This is just a beginning. And despite the self-serving, misguided hopes of some that the U.S. and its partners fail - the Iraqis and the Coalition are likely to pull this darned election off.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in the New York Post