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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Iraq's Most Important Election - New York Times

Iraq's Most Important Election - New York TimesDecember 14, 2005
Iraq's Most Important Election

Tomorrow, Iraqis, who never had a chance to cast a meaningful vote until recently, will be participating in this year's third nationwide election. This vote, for the first full-term Parliament since the fall of Saddam Hussein, is the most important one yet. The outcome will not only determine how governmental power will be apportioned over the next four years, but will also decide the makeup of the special committee that is supposed to rewrite the flawed Constitution. This is perhaps the only chance Iraqis will get to organize a unified, democratic country that can ultimately stand on its own.

That means America's stake in the vote is huge. No matter how much time and money Washington pours into training Iraqi security forces and rebuilding the infrastructure, there can be no hope for lasting success without one essential element that Iraqis alone can supply: a national commitment to build a government based not on force or demographic arithmetic, but on mutual consent. That will require more inclusiveness, cooperation and compromise than have yet been evident.

The biggest challenge, of course, concerns the Sunni Arab minority. The Sunnis, amounting to somewhere between a fifth and a fourth of the overall population, were the chief beneficiaries of Mr. Hussein's Baathist dictatorship and of most of the governments that preceded him. Like it or not, the Sunnis will now have to resign themselves to significantly reduced power and privileges. But they cannot be expected to agree willingly to the permanent pariah status that could befall them unless the current Constitution is drastically revised.

If the Sunnis are willing to turn away from insurgency to peaceful politics, they are entitled to expect guarantees of a fair share of national oil revenues and full political and professional rights, regardless of past membership or office-holding in the once-dominant Baath Party. Those who murdered or tortured fellow Iraqis in the name of Saddam Hussein should, of course, be proscribed and prosecuted. Those who merely joined the party to advance their careers should be left alone.

The Sunnis made a disastrous mistake by boycotting last January's election for the constitutional assembly. They can undo the worst consequences of that mistake by voting tomorrow. We hope that they will defy the suicide bombs of the jihadists and cast their votes in impressive numbers.

The Sunnis aren't the only group to watch. The unified front of mostly religious Shiite parties that formed such a powerful bloc earlier this year is now beginning to fracture in potentially interesting ways. A majority of Iraqis are Shiite Arabs. But unlike the leaders of the two most powerful Shiite parties, a majority of Iraqis are not Shiite fundamentalists politically indebted to Iran. A more diverse representation of Shiite political views and a smaller role for the sinister party militias, which are now an important element of the Iraqi Army and police forces, would be welcome developments. That could also make Sunni Arab neighborhoods feel less threatened. Democracy entitles the majority to rule, but not at the expense of everyone else.

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