President Bush, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi, and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld announced yesterday in separate comments that they had lowered the bar for success in Iraq — and that partial or "imperfect" elections would be held in January, even if the entire country could not vote. In testimony yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee
(thanks to ML for the heads up), Rumsfeld said it was more important to have elections on time than to have elections where everyone could vote:
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Rumsfeld said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.According to the Washington Post
"Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet," he said.
, Prime Minister Allawi and President Bush said almost the same thing in their comments yesterday. Partial elections were better than no elections, and postponing the elections would be tantamount to handing the insurgents victory.
With the elections now seen as the barometer of Iraq's transition to democracy, the United States and Iraq appear to have decided that an imperfect poll would be better than delaying it because of an insurgency that has claimed control of key cities and provincial capitals in the Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad. Analysis
In a speech before a joint meeting of Congress, Allawi conceded that the elections "may not be perfect, may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold" and "won't be the end of the journey toward democracy." But he vowed that Iraq would proceed on schedule in defiance of both skeptics and insurgents.
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The timing of the elections has recently become a focal point, with U.N. officials suggesting last week that they should be delayed if the insurgency — flaring violence by a combination of loyalists to former president Saddam Hussein, foreign fighters and Muslim extremists allied with Abu Musab Zarqawi — prevents a fair nationwide vote.
: Imagine the following hypothetical: California and Florida were swept up by sectarian and gang violence. At the same time, their voting apparati were determined by various agencies to be notoriously unreliable. It became clear that any vote in these two states would be greatly influenced by violence, and that the results would be unreliable at best. Setting aside the Constitution for a moment, the powers that be decided to hold the 2004 election anyway — but to the exclusion of votes from California and Florida. The rest of the country constituted enough of a quorum for these powerful people — who needs those pesky Californian and Floridian votes anyway?
So you're a Californian or a Floridian — how do you feel? I'd feel pissed, personally. I'd also feel incredibly disenfranchised, and I sure as heck wouldn't support the new government or believe in its legitimacy.
That's about what will happen if this plan goes forward in Iraq. As I read it, the Iraqi government (with U.S. support) has plans to hold the election to the exclusion of Fallujah, Ramadi and other insurgent sanctuaries. They may allow those people to exit those areas to vote elsewhere, but it appears that no one thinks polling places in those locations can be secured. In the short term, this may look like an attractive solution. But in the long run, I think it's a formula for disaster. It will only increase the anti-government sentiment among the ordinary populations in those areas — Iraqis who don't like the U.S. presence, but don't work (yet) with the insurgents. It will undermine the legitimacy of the next Iraqi government, which already carries the taint of having been installed by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. And it will play into the hands of sectarian leaders who say that the current Iraqi government wants to disproportionately disenfranchise certain groups in Iraq.
To some extent, the U.S. has plans on the shelf to mitigate this issue and to secure the country during the January '05 election. The Post reports that U.S. CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid sees a need for more troops, but has not settled on a course of action to procure those troops:
"I think we will need more troops than we currently have to secure the elections process in Iraq that will probably take place in the end of January," Abizaid said after a closed-door briefing with legislators about the state of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, he added, "it is our belief that those troops will be Iraqi troops." Also, he said, there may be more international troops.
So, Abizaid concluded, "I don't foresee a need for more American troops, but we can't discount it." There are 135,000 U.S. service members in Iraq.
However, that may not be the whole story. Greg Jaffe and Greg Hitt report in the Wall Street Journal
(subscription required) that the Pentagon has already decided to deploy more U.S. troops, and to run its next troop rotation in such a way as to keep a larger number of U.S. troops on the ground during the elections.
Pentagon plans call for a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq early next year that would coincide with elections there in January and could be used to bolster the newly elected Iraqi government.Update I
The personnel surge, part of a long-planned force rotation, will occur from January to April as new units rotate into the country and those finishing their tours prepare to return home. An Army official said as many as three additional Army brigades — about 15,000 troops — could be in Iraq around the time of the elections and thereafter. Plans call for the U.S. to return to the current level of 138,000 troops by the end of April.
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The temporary increase in U.S. troops could allow commanders to assign more soldiers to guard polling places, protect convoys and ensure that major highways and other supply routes stay open in the event the insurgents plan a large offensive.
: Dick Armitage, #2 at the State Department, said Friday that partial elections were not an option for Iraq, according to the AP.
This opens a schism between the Pentagon and State Department on the issue, although it seems clear that Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi sides with Rumsfeld on this issue based on his comments yesterday. Personally, I think Armitage has it right, because flaws in the election will create long-term problems for any government elected as a result. However, this may be the least worst option in a very bad place.
More to follow...