Pessimism at the Associated Press

That’s not exactly a news flash, of course. This piece is titled “Diplomat Questions Validity of Iraq Voting.” It reports on comments by the Jordanian ambassador to the United States:

Taking a pessimistic view, a senior Jordanian diplomat on Tuesday questioned the validity of the elections Iraq is due to hold at the end of the month if many Iraqis do not vote.
More than 40 percent of Iraqis will be unable to participate in electing an interim assembly, said Karim Kawar, Jordan’s ambassador to the United States, adding, “This raises questions about the authenticity of the elections.”

Kawar appears to be referring to the fact that around 42% of Iraqis live in provinces some parts of which are unsafe. This hardly means, of course, that no one in those four provinces will vote.

The Arab diplomat said some of the Iraqis would be prevented from voting by threat of insurgents while others lack the will to vote. “We are in a kind of bind,” Kawar said during a discussion at the Nixon Center. “I am not as optimistic about the Iraqi election as I was about the Palestinian election.”

Presumably some Iraqis will avoid the polls because they are afraid of the terrorists, but my guess is that number will be small. And no doubt, some people will “lack the will to vote.” That happens here, too. In last November’s Presidential election, with its record turnout, around 56% of voting-age Americans turned out at the polls. I’ll wager a higher percentage of Iraqis vote at the end of the month.
Those who miss that AP article in tomorrow’s newspaper are likely to see this one: “Allawi Admits Some Areas Unsafe to Vote.” A different AP reporter beats the same drum:

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi publicly acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that parts of Iraq probably won’t be safe enough for people to vote in the Jan. 30 elections, and he announced plans to boost the size of the country’s army from 100,000 to 150,000 men by year’s end.
Violence persisted, with at least 16 Iraqis killed in two bombings and the seizure of trucks carrying new Iraqi coins. A U.S. soldier was killed in action in Iraq’s volatile western Anbar province, the military said.
The attacks this month have killed more than 100 Iraqis, mostly Iraqi police and security forces, who are seen by the militants as collaborators with the American occupiers.

We certainly regret the murder of 100 Iraqis by terrorists. But, to put this in perspective, even if we assume that this elevated rate of 100 plus fatalities per ten days, out of a population of 25 million, were to continue on an annualized basis, the deaths would total around 21 per 100,000. That is just one-third higher than the death rate due to traffic accidents in the United States, and well below the U.S. traffic fatality rate as recently as the 1970’s. Infuriating, yes. Debilitating, no.
In historical terms, the fact that there will be areas where turnout will be depressed due to instability is hardly unique. Recall, say, El Salvador and Nicaragua. And even if there were no voting at all in large areas of Iraq where relatively large numbers of people oppose the electoral process, why would that render the result “invalid,” as the AP puts it? In 1864 no one at all voted in the one-third of the United States that was then in rebellion, but to my knowledge no one argues that the re-election of President Lincoln was therefore “invalid.”
Fortunately, neither President Bush nor Prime Minister Allawi has any intention of knuckling under to the fearmongers. The Iraqi elections will take place, the turnout will be large, and an important milestone on the way to a free and secure Iraq will have been achieved.

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