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December 28, 2004
Osama Demands Boycott, Sunnis Respond: Coincidence?

On the day that Osama bin Laden issued a call for Muslims to boycott the upcoming Iraqi elections, the country's largest Sunni party pulled out of the elections, claiming that they should be delayed by six months or more:

The largest political party representing Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority announced Monday that it would drop out of the Jan. 30 election, dealing a fresh blow to the vote's credibility on the same day the top Shiite Muslim candidate survived a car bombing.

The withdrawal of the Iraqi Islamic Party, combined with the assassination attempt on cleric Abdul Aziz Hakim, heightened concerns that the parliamentary election may produce a lopsided result, further alienating Sunni areas where the armed insurgency is growing.

The withdrawal of the Islamic Party may cause a loss of some credibility amongst the Sunni in Iraq, but the Sunni as a group hardly have supported the concept of democracy in the first place. Their withdrawal only surprises the Western media, and even that I suspect is overblown. The Sunni face an unprecedented loss of domination over the Kurds and the Shi'a in Iraq and don't like it one bit. Their only strategy is to boycott the elections and claim their illegitimacy later as a grudge to be nursed.

The boycott announcement also comes at an interesting moment, just when Osama issues a fatwa of sorts warning Muslims that those who participate will become infidels:

In calling on Iraqis to boycott the election, the speaker praised Abu Musab Zarqawi as an "amir," or prince of the al Qaeda organization in Iraq, who is leading the fight against "the Americans and [Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi's renegade government."

"The groups affiliated with him are good," the speaker says. "We were pleased with their daring operations." Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, has asserted responsibility for many of the suicide bombings and beheadings in Iraq over the past year and in October publicly pledged his fealty to bin Laden.

So Osama says "boycott," and the Sunni Islamic Party jumps. No one should be terribly surprised over this, as the Sunni Ba'athists have cast their lot with the Wahhabist al-Qaeda "amir" Zarqawi, who has conducted a bloody and barbaric campaign against Iraqis who have the temerity to desire self-determination and freedom.

The Saddam remnants want a return to Sunni domination, and their easy association with AQ, Osama, and Zarqawi shows what Iraq would become if they succeed. Their refusal to participate in elections therefore does not break my heart in any significant way. Those Sunnis who believe in freedom will make their way to the ballot box.

This does, however, reinforce the wisdom of the proposed federal system in Iraq, which the Shi'ite leader Ali al-Sistani opposes. A federal system will allow the Kurds to govern themselves in peace without undue interference in the Arabic tensions in southern and central Iraq. (Kurds, as they will not hesitate to remind you, are not Arabs.) Assuming that the Sunni eventually participate, they will have their own political stronghold in Baghdad and the rest of central Iraq, while the Shi'a will have their power base in Basra. It allows all factions to have their own space while keeping the country united at the top. Just as in America, these competing demands will put a lot of pressure on the federal government to allow as much autonomy as possible -- but the structure can withstand that and eventually allow the tensions to be expressed at a table rather than at the point of a gun, or with the appearance of a suicide bomber.

To get there, we have to have elections, and we have to make Iraqis confident in their existence. Delaying elections only feeds the conspiracy theorists and fatalists who refuse to believe in democracy and the rule of law. Regardless of Sunni participation, the elections must proceed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 28, 2004 6:36 AM

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