Bush remains firm on Iraq parliamentary election date of Jan. 30
WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday rejected calls for a postponement of Iraq’s parliamentary election, insisting that “it’s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls.”
While adhering to established administration policy, the president’s declaration sent an unwavering signal in the face of calls for delay from Sunni and Kurdish figures in Iraq, as well as some other leaders around the world.
“We are very firm on the Jan. 30 date,” Bush told reporters at the White House.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in separate appearances Thursday, joined in Bush’s demand that the election go forward as planned. The administration push came after Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni tribal leader, added his support for holding the election as planned despite pleas for postponement by those concerned that ongoing violence will make voting impossible in large areas.
“Holding elections is the only salvation for many of Iraq’s problems,” Yawer said at a Wednesday news conference. “There is a moral and legal obligation to hold the elections before 31st January, 2005.”
At the same time, Yawer joined many Sunni politicians in acknowledging that security problems could keep many people in some areas from voting. Last week, when Sunni and Kurdish party leaders said they would not take part in the January elections, Bush said he hoped the balloting would continue in any case. The president has toughened his language since Iraqi interim government leaders and top Shiite religious figures, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, lined up in favor of the January date.
Bush predicted Thursday the election would mark a turning point in the country’s transformation since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 resulted in the toppling of longtime Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
“It’s one of those moments in history where a lot of people will be amazed that a society has been transformed so quickly from one of tyranny and torture and mass graves, to one in which people are actually allowed to express themselves at the ballot,” Bush said during an appearance with Nigerian President Olusegun Obansejo.
Those arguing for delay have cited continuing dangers in the Sunni heartland of the country that would depress voter turnout there, resulting in an imbalance of power in the new national parliament that could foment additional civil strife.
Iraqis are to elect a 275-member national assembly, with seats filled in relation to the number of votes received by the political parties and coalitions across the country. Since Shiites comprise a majority of Iraq’s population, they are expected to fare well in the election after suffering discrimination for decades under Saddam. If few Sunni parties participate, it is even more unlikely that they would gain enough seats to have a significant impact.
The elected assembly will choose a president and prime minister and oversee the writing of a new constitution. If Sunnis are under-represented, they would be left with little voice in the drafting of the constitution.
Security is a severe problem mainly in four provinces and in parts of Baghdad where most of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs live. With the ouster of Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, Sunnis fell from power and many have joined in the insurgency.