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November 28, 2004
Sistani Fights Delay In Iraqi Vote

One of the topics we left in the green room for yesterday's Northern Alliance Radio Network program was the calls for a delay in the Iraqi elections, now set for January 30. In the end, we felt that the Ukrainian political crisis was a larger and more urgent story, but the general consensus in the studio was that a postponement would be equivalent to a retreat in the face of terrorism. Apparently Ayatollah Ali Sistani agrees with us, and he has made clear that the Iraqi national elections should be held on schedule:

Over the past week, a movement spearheaded by Sunni Arabs to delay the elections has gathered momentum, as they have argued that the nation remains too violent to allow safe voting. Responding to those calls, the Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has insisted on keeping the Jan. 30 date. All along, he has argued that elections should be held as soon as possible. ...

"Sayed Sistani doesn't see any need to delay the election date," an aide, Abu Ahmed al-Mudaffar, said in an interview from the holy city of Najaf, using the honorific reserved for direct descendants of Muhammad. Officials from the Sistani organization made clear that position in phone conversations Friday with Sunni leaders, said a senior official in the Shiite Council, an umbrella political group.

They're also discussing this topic on Fox News as well, with the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly and Juan Williams providing a substantial amount of handwringing over legitimacy. Williams asserts that "forcing" an election will result in a civil war. Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol both point out that elections resolve issues and provide safety valves to blow off the pressure that creates civil wars. Barnes made a great point about El Salvador in the 1980s, when Marxist guerillas held a third of the country and called for a boycott of the general elections, knowing that they would be marginalized in a free plebescite. And that is exactly what happened: the boycott collapsed, and a huge turnout established a democracy that still thrives in El Salvador.

The answer, of course, is that elections must be held. Not only will a freely-elected legislature address the issues through debate that now provoke gunfire, but it will also demonstrate the inexorable certainty of freedom to those who fear terrorism. How can we ask Iraqis to trust our intent to liberate them if we retreat from allowing them to form their own government? As Kristol suggested, waiting this long for elections -- and waiting this long to address the terrorists in Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarrah, and elsewhere in the Sunni Triangle -- may already have been a strategic error that lent credence to the terrorists' claims of American imperialism instead of liberation, at least in some fevered minds.

Sistani represents the majority of Iraqis, a majority that spent the last 40 years being oppressed by many of the same people calling for a delay in the elections. Any acquiescence to those demands will only give those Shi'a the impression that the Sunni minority again will dictate the terms of their government. If that happens, the long-predicted Shi'ite uprising might well become a reality as the safety valve of democracy remains closed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 28, 2004 10:34 AM

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We at called the "January 30 elections the Iraqi Independence Day" just last week. The Los Angeles Times reports: Shiite Muslim political and religious leaders insisted Saturday that Iraq's parliamentary election must be held as sch... [Read More]

Tracked on November 29, 2004 12:24 AM

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