Nov 252004

This weekend, Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission announced the nation would hold elections on January 30. There are serious obstacles still to be overcome to meet that objective. Flawed or delayed elections would be a significant blow to Iraq’s stability and threaten civil war. USA Today writes, "Analysts who have studied the Iraqi elections process cite worsening violence, logistical problems as mundane as printing and distributing ballots on time, and the fear that many of the nation’s potent Sunni Muslim minority will boycott the polls, undermining the legitimacy of the vote." Daniel Serwer, of the U.S. Institute of Peace, concurs, saying, "What you’ve got here is a very tight schedule that would be difficult to meet even under ideal circumstances. It’s just not clear if it can physically be done."

SECURITY CONCERNS: William Taylor, the director of reconstruction at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, admits security in the Sunni Triangle and the northern city of Mosul is worse than it was six weeks ago, adding he was worried that in some areas "it would now be difficult to have elections." Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, agrees, saying, "I will tell you that the intimidation campaign that is ongoing is very effective." The challenge U.S. troops now face is taking the power to intimidate away from the insurgents, "so that people can freely get out?to vote and not go back and expect their families to be killed just because they go out and vote."

LOGISTICAL CONCERNS: Holding an election takes an enormous amount of logistical planning. Over the next two-and-a-half months, political parties must register, candidate lists have to be certified, ballots must be printed and distributed to 28,000 polling places, and candidates must campaign. Registration has been delayed in many parts of the country over the past few weeks, however, as about 90 of the country’s 540 registration centers were shut down due to potential violence. Also, the U.N. presence in the country is cripplingly limited; "in contrast to Afghanistan’s October elections, for which the U.N. deployed 266 election workers, there are only 10 U.N. staffers now in Iraq, a number expected to increase to 25 in December."

MORE IRAQI TROOPS NEEDED: Security on January 30 is crucial to ensuring legitimate election results. The White House has said it plans to rely on Iraqi security forces to protect Iraq’s 9,000 polling places. There still is, however, a drastic shortage of trained Iraqi security officers. The New York Times reports, "American commanders say that only 145,000 Iraqi security personnel will be trained and ready by election day?far short of the 270,000 that Iraqi officials say are needed."

MILITARY COMMANDERS SAY MORE U.S. TROOPS NEEDED: Senior military commanders in Iraq say it is "increasingly likely" more U.S. troops are needed in Iraq in order to secure remaining areas of resistance. A substantial number of Marines and Army troops are currently tied up for weeks in securing Fallujah and overseeing the town’s reconstruction, leaving a limited number of forces available for routing out insurgents in other areas. The exact number of additional troops necessary is unknown, reports the Washington Post, but it is estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers. These new troops could come by extending the stay of more soldiers or by accelerating the deployment of divisions in the United States; the Pentagon has already ordered about 6,500 soldiers to extend their tours by up to two months.

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