Was There Fraud in the Jan. 30 Elections?

The United States waited too long to incorporate the Sunnis


We agree on several things. The fate of Iraq’s transition is yet to be determined, and the possible outcomes range from democracy to civil war. It is strongly in the American interest, morally and strategically, to help Iraq build a democracy. That is what the majority of Iraqis want (though they have vastly different visions of “democracy”), and many have risked or given their lives in that quest.

There is progress in incorporating Sunnis. But the United States waited much too long to pursue this and has paid a heavy price for this miscalculation. You reflect a common misunderstanding that incorporation is just a matter of numbers. Sunnis do not find comfort merely because there are “six Sunnis” in the government. The question is which Sunnis, chosen by whom? They must be chosen by and seen to represent the principal Sunni political, tribal, and religious constituencies. That is only beginning to happen now.

As for Iraq today being such a model of “consensus with minorities,” why then are religious minorities, particularly Christian minorities, so fearful for their status? Why are Iraqi women protesting in the streets over proposals to roll back their hard-earned rights to equality and to impose Islamic Sharia law in family and personal matters?

I think President Bush (and many of his officials) wants in principle to promote democracy in Iraq and the Middle East. But it is hard to convince people of that when we scheme and manipulate to shape the election outcome; when we obsess about keeping to a fixed transition schedule, and then panic at the prospect that the schedule will tilt the electoral playing field to anti-American political forces.

How can the administration parade the Jan. 30 election results as a great American triumph for democracy in Iraq when—as Seymour Hersh reports in this week’s New Yorker—it tried to secretly funnel large amounts of campaign cash to the flailing electoral campaign of the interim prime minister we chose, Iyad Allawi? Hersh’s account raises disturbing questions that must be answered: Did the administration (or some rogue piece of it) proceed covertly to pour money and technical help into Allawi’s campaign, despite our professions of faith in Iraq’s democratic process and congressional objections to our interfering in this way? What was the scope of electoral fraud, and what, if any, involvement did covert American operatives have in it? We need an independent congressional investigation to determine these answers. And we need the Congress and the American media to exercise more vigorous oversight if the quality of our own democracy is not to become a casualty of our effort to “build democracy in Iraq.”

There is another way we could fail in Iraq. That would be for the pro-Iranian Islamic fundamentalists (the most militant among the ruling Shiite alliance) to conquer power through political force, intimidation, and intrigue, like the Leninists of a previous era. That has begun to happen in Iraq, with the steadily rising power of SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—so named for a reason) and its 15,000-man militia, the Badr Organization (trained in Iran by the Revolutionary Guards). Adding to the danger is the growing mobilization of other militant Islamist militias. Perhaps that was one reason why the administration tried covertly to rescue Allawi’s campaign. It is another sign of this administration’s incompetence and duplicity that the very prospect it has most feared has been advanced by its bungling. To your list of possible disastrous political outcomes, one could add the prospect of the United States giving more than 2,000 lives, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, and hollowing out our military readiness so that pro-Iranian Shiite theocrats could seize power in Baghdad.

Yes, Dan: The jury is still out. I don’t know which way Iraq will tilt. But the American public needs and deserves a full and truthful account of what we have done, what we are doing, and what our strategy is for “success.”