Iraqi Palmistry

Article excerpt

Byline: Arnaud de Borchgrave, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

An optimist in the Middle East is someone who is almost always wrong while a pessimist is usually an optimist with experience. And those who live by the crystal ball in Araby usually wind up eating crunched glass.

With those caveats, one can probably dismiss the voices from the left that say it was an election to anoint an occupation. One can also safely discount the Bush cheerleaders who are confident the Iraqi elections symbolize the strategic defeat of terrorism in Iraq.

But it was a major triumph for Iran. For the first time since the revolutionary ayatollahs imposed their clerical dictatorship on Persia in 1979, their Shi'ite coreligionists scored a legal majority of the votes in another country - and a neighbor at that. Mercifully, Iraq's Shi'ites, headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, were not interested in emulating Iran's theocracy. They made clear they wanted majority rule government sans turbans.

Their favorite candidate for prime minister is Ahmad Chalabi, originally sponsored by neocon supremo Richard Perle, and once the Pentagon's darling and the CIA's bete noir, who has spent the past few months cultivating new contacts with turbans in Iran and obtaining Ali Sistani's benediction for high office.

Mr. Chalabi's elevation would cause immediate embarrassment in Jordan, Iraq's immediate neighbor to the west, where he was sentenced in absentia in 1992 to 22 years hard labor on 31 counts of embezzlement and bank fraud. Jordan's King Abdullah, whose country heavily depends on trade with Iraq, would probably have to grant a royal pardon.

The election was one small step for democracy - and a giant step into unknown territory. No traffic was allowed to move and major cities looked like ghost towns. With 19,000 candidates and 111 parties and formations, the ballots were so complex even Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader, needed a briefing on what to do. The United Iraqi Alliance apologized for identifying only 37 of their 225 candidates "because we have to keep them alive." A similar election held in Syria would have been dismissed as sham.

The attribution of 275 seats in the transitional Constituent Assembly, the selection of a president and two vice presidents, and then a prime minister, who would have to form a government, followed by a referendum on a new constitution in mid-August, followed by general elections by year's end - all so many sandtraps where scorpions lie in wait.

Before the elections, Iraq's new head of intelligence estimated the number of "fulltime" insurgents at 40,000 and part-time fighters at 160,000. Before the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, the army numbered 430,000.

Last year, Central Commander Gen. John Abizaid put the number of terrorists at about 5,000. Other generals have gone as high as 20,000. The only number that matters is 300. That was the total number of IRA terrorists deployed in Northern Ireland at the height of the insurgency. …