Sunday, January 11, 2004

What is happening in Iraq right now is not without precedent. When the constitution was being written, states with small populations wanted everyone to have an equal vote. States with large populations of course wanted the vote to be by size. A compromise was of course worked out, with two senators per state but representatives according to population, with electoral votes for President apportioned to give something extra to the smaller regions.

Why can't Iraq do the same? One reason is that ethnic and religios strife can be bitterer than regional strife, especially when there is a history of killing between the two groups. Additionally however, the States knew they had nobody but themselves to blame if they failed to create a government - and nobody to preserve them from the results. It must be tempting for Iraqis to blame us - and to feel we have to make things work out somehow to avoid seeming a failure to the world, thus saving each group of Iraqi's from making the difficult compromises necessary.

If they fail to do so, we may be in big trouble.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 11 — In a blow to White House plans for a smooth handover of power to an Iraqi transitional government by July 1, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq said today that members of an interim assembly had to be chosen through direct elections.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had called in November for direct elections to counter an American proposal to hold caucus-style elections, but had said he would reconsider his decision if a United Nations committee decided that general elections were not possible.

But in a statement issued today, Ayatollah Sistani essentially left no room for compromise by saying that elections could be held "within the next months with an acceptable level of transparency and credibility."

He added that an interim constitution being drafted by the Iraqi Governing Council would have to be approved by a directly elected assembly for it to have legitimacy.

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