The Iraqi election still on track for a week from today will not be a valid democratic measure of political will in that country, by any standard. But given its importance in the process of turning governance in Iraq to Iraqis, plus the amount of Iraqi and American blood that has been shed to make it happen, the election must take place on Jan. 30, as scheduled.
To postpone the election would be to hand a victory to the Iraqi insurgents employing terrorist tactics to try to derail it. In addition, there is no reason to believe that security in Iraq would be any better at a later date than it is now.
Nothing would be gained by a postponement. The barriers to holding an effective election mount hourly.
The Iraqi interim government has announced that the country s borders will be closed on election day. That makes sense in terms of trying to keep alleged foreign infiltrator-militants out. But it also means that, unlike all the Iraqi exiles who will be voting absentee overseas in places like the United States, the many Iraqis now in neighboring countries such as Syria, Iran, and Turkey, will have difficulty returning to Iraq to vote.
The United States is now at the point of using all of its military resources to try to provide security for the election. Turkey, a fellow NATO member, concerned that Kurds are using Iraq as a staging area for raids across the border into Turkey, asked the United States to collaborate with them in a joint effort to stop the raids.
The United States declined last week, claiming insufficient forces to meet the request. In terms of the importance to the United States of good long-term relations with Turkey, this was equivalent to throwing the dining room table on the fire to warm the house.
The Jan. 30 Iraqi election will not have meaningful international monitoring. The United Nations team assigned that task will be working from Amman, Jordan. Election observation inside Iraq is considered too dangerous for international personnel. It will thus be carried out in-country only by Iraqis and Americans, rendering the election results automatically suspect in the eyes of the world.
Then there is the question of participation by Sunni Muslims, only 20 percent of the population but the group that not only ruled independent Iraq from 1932 to 2003, but also governed the country indirectly during the 400-year period of Ottoman rule.
Sunni leaders indicate boycott out of political conviction, considering the election to be an American contraption, out of fear, intimidated by the countless attacks on police stations, other interim government installations, and individuals, and out of the probably correct belief that the much more numerous Shiites, 60 percent of the population, would out-vote them anyway.
What Americans want most is for the Iraq nightmare to be over. So the Jan. 30 election, however flawed, is the next step in a handover to Iraqi rule, and subsequent U.S. withdrawal.
In that regard, the only viable course now is to drive on, however rocky election day may turn out to be.