|February 4, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Iraqis Vote In Large Numbers. Should The Troops Come Home?
On Sunday, Iraqis defied the threat of violence and voted by the millions. By the end of the day, images of men, women and children walking along roads devoid of cars on their way to the polling places flashed on television screens around the world. Wire services transmitted the compelling image of a man being assisted by a child, each trying to comprehend the complicated ballot. Other video footage captured scenes of jubilation by recent voters, many displaying index fingers stained with purple ink, a precaution imposed by officials to prevent multiple voting.
On the fringes of these refreshing scenes, violence perpetrated by insurgents continued around the voting. A British aircraft was felled by a missile which killed all on board. Some thirty-five would-be voters were slain by suicide bombers, nine of whom were consumed in flames that they ignited themselves. Mortar attacks threatened voters, especially in the areas of large Sunni Arab populations.
Many voters reportedly were pleased that their way to the polls was guarded by Iraqi security forces. Coalition troops remained well out of sight in powerful cordons of protection, suppressing vehicular traffic, ferreting out snipers and would-be assassins; always at the ready to move in should the newly trained Iraqi police require assistance.
As the Herald went to the web, four teams of fifty vote counters continued to work around the clock in Baghdads well protected "Green Zone," tallying the complex ballots that offered voters choices for slates of candidates that will make up the body of a constitutional assembly. That group will elect an interim government and write the guiding principals for what is hoped will be a democratic form of government, one suitable for Iraqs diverse and fractious population.
By weeks end, preliminary results showed that over 60% of eligible Iraqi voters cast ballots, and in disproportionately high numbers in the Shiite populated area of the countrys South and in the non-Arab Kurdish communities of the North. In Sunni areas in Iraqs central region around Baghdad, the turnout was disappointingly low, spelling potential trouble in achieving the desired goal of the democratic process ultimately embracing the entire country.
Most surrounding Arab states are majority Sunni, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan and Syria. Iran, however, is majority Shiite, causing speculation that a Shiite dominated government in Iraq with close ties to non-Arab Iran could spell trouble for the West if it were to become an oil rich consortium, using its clout to dominate the geopolitics of the Middle East.
Although most leaders in the area congratulated Iraqis for braving potential violence to show up to vote, most were measured in their public statements. With the exception of Israel, and most recently the Palestinian Authority, Iraq is surrounded by kingdoms and autocratic political dynasties. The prospect of a democratic Iraq could be unsettling to a majority of Middle Eastern nations.
President Bush has been effusive in his praise of the election process in Iraq. On the day after the voting, he called interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and President Ghazi al-Yawer to convey congratulations. All week, the White House has been reporting positive results of the election process, while issuing cautions that there is still much work to be done.
In general, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are calling the election a success, but there is divergence as to what should be the next steps. The next priority, Republicans say, must be to fully train an Iraqi security force, so that the country can protect its own fledgling government and the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq can return home. Some Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, called on the administration to outline an exit strategy and a timetable for the return of the U.S. military.
In his state of the union message delivered to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, the elections in Iraq were brought to the fore in a very dramatic manner.
Among the Presidents guests seated alongside First Lady Laura Bush were recent voters from the elections in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Iraqi, Safia Teleb Suhail, a leader of the Iraqi Womans Political Council, is of a family persecuted by the late dictator, Sadam Hussein. When introduced by the President, she brandished her finger still discolored by the purple ink from the polls, receiving the sustained applause of the chamber.
Nearby were the parents of a recently fallen American soldier stationed in Iraq, Janet and Bill Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas. Mr. Bush introduced them with the touching story of the sons conversation with his mother on his last visit home. Janet Norwood is said to have told her son, Sgt. Byron Norwood, "I wish I could take care of you," to which the soldier answered, "Mom, youve taken care of me all of your life, now it is my turn to take care of you." Shortly thereafter he was slain in Iraq.
As the parents were receiving thunderous applause, Ms. Suhail rose to embrace Mrs. Norwood, creating a touching tableau, the personification of the Presidents message of the nations role in Iraq, "American sacrifice to gain Iraqi freedom."
The emotion of the scene did not cloud the enduring reality of Iraq, articulated by opponents of the war in Iraq from the beginning. California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, followed the Presidents speech with her own nationally televised address. "Iraq still faces a violent and persistent insurgency
and is now a magnet for international terrorists." She called on the Bush administration to accelerate the training of Iraqis to take over the security of the country so that American troops could begin to withdraw. "We all know that the United States cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying power."
Puerto Ricans have a stake in the return of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from the hazardous duty in Iraq. Since the beginning of hostilities in that troubled country, some 7,600 troops from Puerto Rico have served in harms way and 23 soldiers with island addresses or roots in Puerto Rico have been killed. Just this week, some 500 reservists of the 448th Engineering Battalion returned from a dangerous one-year tour there. They had been repairing roads and buildings destroyed by the war. At least 200 more reserve soldiers are scheduled to be deployed to the war zone over the next few months.
This week Herald readers can express an opinion as to the significance of the recent elections in Iraq and their impact on the return of U.S. forces from the front. Should a timetable be established for the return of U.S. troops from Iraq?