Early Elections in Iraq: Could They Give US an Exit Strategy? ; 'Rolling Elections' Are One Proposed Way to Prevent Insurgents from Disrupting New Democratic Grass Roots

Article excerpt

The spectacle of Saddam Hussein answering to an Iraqi judge provides the Iraqi people with an emotional rallying point about their recent past. But when it comes to the future, nothing unifies them as much as the desire to participate in reformation through elections.

Yet with ongoing violence raising questions about the prospects for nationwide elections, some experts are sketching something new on the Iraq drawing board. Their idea: "rolling" elections that would get under way this fall, coming first to largely stable sections of the country.

"Polls show the only thing a wide variety of Iraqis identify with is the need for elections, so it becomes especially important for an interim government that is 'selected not elected' to demonstrate they favor moving toward that as quickly as possible," says Dennis Ross director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Rather than allowing insecurity to hold off elections, he says, starting them sooner rather than later would be "one way to change the psychological climate and balance of forces in Iraq." And he says current conditions would allow for elections in at least 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

So far, Iraq's new appointed leaders are focused on establishing authority, with much of their initial emphasis on improving security - ranging from quickly building a large new Iraqi army to implementing tough new security powers.

With so much emphasis on first controlling violence, some Iraq specialists worry that elections are getting short shrift. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has sent mixed signals recently saying that elections might take place as soon as November, but then indicating they might have to be postponed beyond the outside date of the United Nations stipulated date of January 2005.

Starting elections earlier in secure regions would be a way to convince Iraqis that their fledgling democracy is not a sham, experts say, and that power truly is being put in their hands. At the same time, they add, elections would demonstrate the leadership's understanding that the key to Iraq's progress is political.

Perhaps most important, some specialists say, rolling the electoral process would convince the insurgents they will not be allowed to derail national elections.

"The problem with saying there will be national elections [held on the same day] is that you are essentially telling that part of the country opposed to them that they can stop them," says Andrew Apostolou, an Iraq specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. …

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