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SUNDAY, JANUARY 23, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Bush wise to push for Jan. 30 elections

The Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 will be ugly, but President Bush is wise to insist that they go forward.

Many inside and outside Iraq have pushed for a delay because terrorist attacks are so rampant in the country that few people will expose themselves to the risk of voting. Another reason is that without Sunnis, who plan to boycott the elections, the results will be meaningless.

Both arguments are flawed.

The argument that delay will permit Iraqis to report to polling places without as much risk rests upon a false assumption. It assumes that delay will increase security. The last two years make clear that the passage of time will increase, not decrease, the terrorist presence in Iraq.

In March 2003, insurgents killed 65 Americans. That number jumped to 73 in April 2003. In November 2004, 137 died. Month-to-month U.S. casualties are erratic, but they show an unmistakable upward trend.

While the United States refuses to estimate the number of terrorist-related deaths in Iraq's civilian population, news reports suggest the upward trend is even more dramatic.

The psychological impact of a delay in the election would be even more disastrous. Insurgents increasingly seek to shape the foreign policy of coalition nations with threats of increased bloodshed. A delay in the elections would be the first time that America caved in to the threats.

Successfully impacting U.S. policy would whet terrorists' appetite for more demonstrations of their power to stalemate the greatest military power in the world.

The other argument for a delay in elections is that it will increase Sunni participation. This too is unlikely.

One of the main arguments asserted by Sunnis in their election boycott is that poll security is inadequate. This argument will become more persuasive, not less, with a delay.

More significant is the effect that delay would have on Sunni perception of the relationship between Shiites and the United States. Our relationship with Shiites is now almost as frosty as it is with mainline Sunnis. Sunnis have a long list of complaints against America, but our cooperation with Shiites is not high on that list.

Time will necessarily provide Sunnis with more fodder. While an election without participation of the Sunnis is unfortunate, an election without participation of the Shiite majority is impossible. Once the United States makes concessions to Sunnis, we can count on similar demands by Shiites. We will have no choice but to accede to those demands.

The elections will be ugly. Many will die and participation will be low. But delay will worsen, not improve, the prospects for a democratic Iraq.

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