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Iraq Election

01/28/05 12:00AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(HOST) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore believes those who had high hopes for Sunday's Iraqi elections are going to be disappointed.


(DUNSMORE) It could be up to two weeks before the official results of Sunday's vote will be known. In the meantime, we will be treated to more of the kind of political spin we heard from President Bush on Wednesday: that just the fact of the election was "a grand moment in Iraqi history" and part of a global march toward freedom. But whatever the actual vote count, Iraq's future is going to remain uncertain. And the U. S. will still be mired in a situation that is painfully expensive to maintain, but might prove even more costly to abruptly abandon.

We know from the religious and ethnic breakdown of Iraq that the Shiites, the sect of Islam which makes up 60 percent of the population, are going to win the most seats in a new 275-member national assembly. The Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the population, should also win their proportion of seats.

The Sunnis are another matter. Saddam was a Sunni, and, although they make up only 20 percent of Iraqis, Sunnis have ruled for most of Iraq's existence. The US invasion ended their domination - which is why Sunnis make up the bulk of the insurgency. And right now, even those who aren't insurgents are afraid to vote.

The new parliament is to appoint a president and prime minister and to draw up a permanent constitution for a democratic Iraq. The U. S. is hoping that the victorious Shias and Kurds will be magnanimous enough to include a fair share of Sunnis in that constitutional process. But even if that happens, minority status will not satisfy many Sunnis - meaning the insurgency will quite likely continue. That's apparently why Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor for President Bush the elder, said recently that the Iraqi elections "have the great potential for deepening the conflict" by turning it into "an incipient civil war."

For those who were hoping that the election might start the process of getting U. S. troops out, the news is not good either. The Bush administration keeps saying it will not leave until the Iraqis have a functioning military and a police force able to keep the country from falling into chaos.

At conformation hearings last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed 120,000 Iraqis were trained to replace U. S. forces. However, Senator Joe Biden, who had just returned from Iraq, countered that top commanders had told him only 4,000 Iraqis are actually competent to replace the Americans. Apparently, in response to Biden, the Pentagon announced this week that the process of training Iraqis is to be dramatically stepped up.

For me, this has echoes of "Vietnamization", President Nixon's 1969 plan to get the South Vietnamese to take over the major burden of the fighting so that American troops could come home. Unfortunately, it took nearly four more years to get most Americans out - a time when that war's grim casualty toll would roughly double.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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