On the Record

Iraqi Elections

Kenneth M. Pollack

S. O’BRIEN:Ken Pollack is from the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.

He’s in Washington this morning.

Nice to see you, as always, Ken.

POLLACK:Thanks, Soledad.

S. O’BRIEN: Thanks for being with us. Borders closed, severe security restrictions.

Under all of that, do you think Iraqi forces can really maintain control in a leadership way?

POLLACK: Well, look, Soledad, you can never know what’s going on in the heads of the terrorists. You never know what kind of plans they’ve come up with. And you also don’t know what they may have learned in the past. Obviously, they’ve seen these kind of lockdowns before. They may be planning against them.

That said, what we’ve seen in the past is that when U.S. and Iraqi forces make this kind of an all out effort to impose security for a day for voting, they actually tent to do very well. And beyond that, you’ve also got a number of very important Sunni leaders who have said let’s not protest the election, let’s go ahead and participate. It’s very important for our future, as well.

All of that would seem to suggest that we’re likely to see a reasonably low level of violence, which is pretty good for Iraq.

S. O’BRIEN:That being said, it could really bring a decent sized Sunni turnout to the elections. But many people are predicting that that could have a huge impact on the violence.

Do you think that’s true?

POLLACK: Sure. Well, the fact that you’ve got Sunnis participating should have—lessen the violence, at least on that day.

I think the beginner question is whether the big Sunni turnout and participation in the new government is going to have a lasting impact on violence. And there, I think, you know, it’s a much more dicey proposition.

First, there are a lot of Sunni groups that are looking to this election to give them real power in Iraq. And if they don’t get that power, if a new government gets formed up, as Aneesh Raman was saying, in the next few months and it doesn’t include a large number of Sunnis in it, the Sunnis may calculate that, you know, in fact, it doesn’t pay for them to participate in elections, because even when they participate, they don’t wind up in power.

S. O’BRIEN: The vote is to pick a 275-member parliament and then eventually it’s going to pick the leader of the government. It could be Ayad Allawi. It could be Chalabi at some point.

What’s the U.S. stake in this?

POLLACK:Well, the U.S. obviously wants to see a good election with lots of participation that creates a stable Iraqi government that is—and here’s the big one—that is able to do things. The biggest problem that the U.S. has had over the past two-and-a-half years, from America’s perspective, from Washington’s perspective, is that you’ve had Iraqi governments that were unable to actually come through with anything.

In particular, this current government, the transitional government under Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has been accused by any number of people of just not being able to follow through on anything that it proposes.

S. O’BRIEN: Let’s talk a little bit about the Iraqi abuse allegations. You’ve heard about these new allegations. I read about them in the “New York Times” today and the “Washington Post,” too.

What kind of an impact do these allegations have?

And I don’t mean on the elections coming up in days, but I mean a big picture impact.

POLLACK: They’re potentially huge, Soledad, because they’re exactly the kind of violence against Sunnis that, frankly, many Sunnis have been fearing, and particularly the Sunni tribesmen who are the main supporters of the insurgency itself. They’ve—their fear has been that once the Shia and the Kurds get into power, particularly the Shia, that they will abuse and oppress them exactly the way that Saddam’s Sunni regime oppressed and abused the Shia for all of these years.

And so this looks like manifest proof that the Shia are planning to do it. It’s, again, one of those reasons why this future government is very important to the future stability of Iraq. This is a moment when Sunnis are saying let’s participate, let’s see if we can accomplish our goals, prevent these Shia chauvinists from hurting us, as these groups, the various groups have so far. Let’s see if we can do that through this electoral process because…

S. O’BRIEN:If they can’t stop the Iraqi—the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by Iraqis, I’ve got to imagine that’s going to have an impact, too, on American interests in participating.

POLLACK: Sure. It’s going to be very hard for the United States to continue to participate and work hand in glove with an Iraqi government if it is seen as increasingly being responsible of gross human rights violations

S. O’BRIEN: Ken Pollack from the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution.Always nice to see you.Thanks for talking with us, Ken.

POLLACK: Thank you, Soledad.

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