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Why The Iraqi Elections Must Be Postponed

Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, February 23

Nearly 15 years after Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq, it remains clear beyond any doubt that the Iraqi people were given a real chance to build a better future for themselves thanks to American support. One can certainly argue that democratic rule cannot be imposed upon a people through the use of force; however, military means can surely be used to remove the barriers to democracy. This was the case with the American intervention in Iraq, thus the country can, for many reasons, be celebrated as a democratic success story. For instance, ever since Hussein’s regime was toppled in 2003, the Iraqi people have chosen their leaders in free and fair elections. To observers in the Western world this might not seem like a serious matter—but to those who for centuries were treated by cruel despots as mere subjects this is a true achievement. Sadly, free and fair elections alone will not sufficiently ensure Iraq’s stability in the long-run. As the country’s May 12 vote approaches, it has become clearer and clearer that Iraq is still not ready to go to the ballot box. Many of Iraq’s regions have only recently been liberated from ISIS, making it difficult to ensure that the infrastructure necessary for holding elections is in place. This includes not only physical polling stations but also the infrastructure to campaign, rally, and register voters. Furthermore, the Kurdish referendum held just 6 months ago has left many of Iraq’s ethnic groups at odds with one another. Sending them to vote right now is not a good idea. Finally, Iraqis are beginning to see past their differences and come together as one people, viewing their victory over ISIS as an Iraqi, rather than sectarian, win. This should not be undermined or sabotaged by holding divisive elections. The United States, more than anyone other country, should understand this fragile dynamic and work to postpone the vote. President Trump is believed to have ordered the ramping up of American activity in Iraq and the deployment of more troops to the country. He surely understands that such an effort will require coordination with the newly-elected Iraqi government. It would thus appear contrary to American interests to force the people of Iraq to vote at this moment, effectively ushering in Washington’s next ally in an abrupt and hasty manner. – Amir Taheri

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