Fri, Nov 19, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Iraqi elections need the support of the international community

By Barham Salih  /  THE GUARDIAN , BAGHDAD

No one who lived through the horrors of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime, from whose ruins the new Iraq is emerging, will ever forget them. It is one of the reasons that the elections to be held in January -- the first time most Iraqis will have had the chance of a meaningful vote -- have such wide support in the country.

The very notion of a free and fair vote for ordinary citizens was an abomination to Saddam. He and his cronies tortured and murdered their fellow Iraqis if they so much as hinted at dissent.

These elections, in which the Iraqi people will decide not just who will govern them but how they are governed, show the country is emerging from this nightmare. They should be supported by all who wish Iraq well. What do those who claim to have the best interests of Iraq at heart fear from elections?

Iraqis are striving to construct a society where freedom of choice, the democratic process and the rule of law are paramount.

They want, as they continually tell me and my colleagues in the Iraqi interim government, freedom, peace and stability for their children.

No one should be able to deny them this dream. But a small minority of Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists who have nothing to offer but violence are trying to do just that.

They exist in various parts of Iraq, but their base has been Fallujah for some time.

From this city, they have terrorized the local population and spread murder across the country. They have blown up women and children and executed in cold blood fellow Iraqis trying to end the lawlessness in our country. No civilized person can stand by and allow this to continue. No civilized person should support those behind this campaign of murder.

The people of Fallujah do not support these men of violence. They want rid of them and have been pleading for the interim government to free them. It would have been better for everyone if this could have been done peacefully.

So for many months, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and my colleagues in the interim government have made repeated efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution.

We have stopped at nothing to persuade the terrorists and insurgents to lay down their arms, stop hurting innocent Iraqis and spare the city from further military action. We have continually said that the political process remains open to those who renounce violence. It still does.

The terrorists and insurgents have refused our advances, preferring instead to continue fighting. Finally the interim government had no other option than to take this action to liberate the people of Falluja from these murderers and protect the people of Iraq from further atrocities. I wish there had been another way.

But we need to resolve the situation and quickly. The real aim of these terrorists, as well as causing as much destruction as possible, is to derail the national elections planned for January. They know the more successful these elections are, the less space there will be for their nihilistic brand of violence.

Given the current security climate, holding free and fair elections on time poses a huge challenge. But delaying the elections would pose a greater danger to the country's future.

By the end of January, Iraqis should have had the chance to elect a national assembly, 18 provincial governors, and the Kurdistan national assembly. The country's ethnic and religious diversity will for the first time in Iraq's troubled history be properly reflected in its political institutions.

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