Holding Iraqi Elections Places Iraqi Citizens in Jeopardy
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The assassination of three Iraqi election officials in the middle of a busy street running through the center of Baghdad on Sunday (December 19) demonstrated the audacity and total sense of impunity with which armed groups operate in Iraq today. Despite the clear and present danger posed by these groups to a vulnerable general public that is supposed to vote for an interim national assembly on January 30, US president Bush and his closest allies involved in the occupation of Iraq insist on proceeding with elections as planned. George Bush refuses to "derail" the elections as he views them as critical to his mission of transforming Iraq into a bastion for democracy and to defeating terrorism in Iraq and the Middle East. In his estimation, postponing the elections would be tantamount to conceding victory to the terrorists.
A Bush supporter, Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, agrees and has pledged to assist in the process to the extent that he can. Unfortunately, Koizumi cannot and will not pledge troops to guard election stands and voters as they exercise their democratic rights. Complicating the already exposed security situation, the US has publicly declared that it wants to maintain a low profile on election day. This would imply no visible US military presence. The objective of which was to give a sense that this election was not imposed by the US but was a demonstration of Iraqi self-determination. Ideally, international observers and UN troops would guard the polling stations. However, according to a New York Times article published on December 22, even those responsible for election monitoring have chosen to observe the elections from the "safety of Amman" and will not be present on the ground either to protect the voters or legitimize the elections (Joel Brinkley, "Foreign Team will Watch Vote in Iraq from Jordan").
It is a well-known and documented fact that free and fair elections cannot take place in a climate of fear. In such a situation, voter intimidation runs rampant and election results are not representative, ultimately being rendered circumspect. With Sunni leaders in Iraq threatening to urge their followers to boycott the elections, it is quite obvious that the election is dividing up the nation instead of unifying it. Although, Iraqis need to start determining their own fate, preferably through a democratic process, the conditions surrounding this proposed election, insisted upon primarily by Western leaders and US allies in Asia, make holding them not only problematic from the perspective of legitimacy but also irresponsible as it could and likely will transform Iraqi voters into terrorist targets.
While Japanese editorials by and large support the holding of elections on January 30, many such as the Asahi Shimbun are critical of how the security climate has deteriorated over the past month in particular. Nevertheless, even the Asahi Shimbun believes that the election should move forward as it would represent the first step towards Iraqi self-government. Considering the death of hundreds of civilians and soldiers over the past week alone, however, those pushing for elections should think twice for the safety of those who vote. Their security must come first. After all, who has the right to insist that Iraqi voters and election officials risk their lives on January 30 in a situation where international observers refuse to be present and in an election that is already to a large extent deligitimized? If we consider these elections so important as to place Iraqi lives on the line, an equal commitment needs to be made on the part of those pushing the election in the international community.