Violence and the Iraq Elections
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JIM LEHRER: Violence and the Iraq elections. We start with a report from Baghdad by Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. Gwen Ifill talked with him earlier this evening.
GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Gettleman, welcome. Again, we see more violence in Iraq today. Eight national guardsmen Iraqi national guardsmen killed. Another suicide bomb and late today we hear of the kidnapping of a Syrian Catholic archbishop. How does all of this bear on what’s going to happen in the election two weeks away?
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Well it’s really not clear. I mean today was a pretty typical brutal day in Iraq. Across the country from end to end there were attacks in Basra in the south, attacks in Mosul in the north where the archbishop were kidnapped. There were attacks across the Sunni Triangle.
What’s interesting is according to a Baghdad newspaper today, there are two-thirds of the people in the city of Baghdad who are planning on voting in the election so it’s not clear if this intimidation campaign is going to drive voters away, as some people had feared.
GWEN IFILL: Now when the Iraqi newspapers write stories like that, what do we base it on? Do you see campaigning in the streets of Baghdad and other cities and other areas? Do you see campaign posters? Do you see any sign that Americans would interpret as being a regular election campaign?
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: There are sort of flickering traces of political activity in Baghdad and around the country. But because of the security situation, it’s very dangerous to campaign. Candidates have been avoiding big public demonstrations and speeches. They’ve held a few events in incredibly secure circumstances to reach voters. But it’s been a pretty low- key campaign.
The survey that I was referring to was a poll conducted by this newspaper — a pretty small sample size, like 300 potential voters. But the thought is that voters are going to stay away from the polls in hard-core Sunni areas where there’s a lot of pressure on them not to vote and that voters in Shiite and Kurdish areas are going to go to the polls in great numbers to claim some of the political power that they’ve been denied for a long, long time.
And places like Baghdad is where it’s going to get interesting, because that’s a mix of all these different ethnic and religious groups. And that’s why that poll was interesting, because it was taken in Baghdad.
GWEN IFILL: The administration has said that most of this violence is only centered in four out of the 18 provinces. How do you then turn out voters? These are very populous provinces. How do you then turn out voters in those areas?
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Well, it’s going to be really difficult for them to do that in Anbar Province, which is home to Fallujah and Ramadi, two of the more notorious cities in the insurgency, where Americans have continually fought insurgents and many lives have been lost. I think a lot of us will be surprised if the turnout is high in those areas.
But the government, the American government and the Iraq government, are really emphasizing the lengths they’re going to go to for security on election day, and how they’re going to seal off parts of the city, ban vehicle traffic, make people walk to the polls, not drive up to them to prevent any car bombings. So they’re trying to do everything they can to give Iraqi voters confidence that if they want to vote, they’ll be safe to vote.
GWEN IFILL: Is there any way to predict what kind of turnout they’re hoping for?
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Somebody was quoted in the last few days, an Iraqi official, predicting something like five to eight million people out of a potential voting base of 14 million. And I think if it did turn out to be that high — you know — 50 percent or higher — that would be deemed a success.
But what’s going to be the critical point is how many people in the Sunni community vote, because they’re the ones who feel the most isolated and the most disenfranchised by this whole process. And if there’s not good representation out of the Sunni areas, the occupation in that part of the country is just going to continue, because these people are going to want to have no part of the government that they’re not really part of.
GWEN IFILL: And already on this side of the ocean, people… members of the administration have started saying, well, this election is just the beginning of a process rather than an end- all, which means that they are as concerned, it sounds to me, as the folks on the ground where you are about the legitimacy of the process, if indeed the Sunni vote is depressed. Do you hear… is there a widespread voiced concern about that post-election legitimacy question?
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Yeah, there’s a number of issues on that front. I mean, one is American officials in Baghdad are definitely beginning to downgrade expectation about this vote. After promoting, you know, it over the past several months as a critical moment in Iraq and something that would sort of include all the groups, the reality is a little different than that, and they’re beginning to say, well, it’s not so much turnout that matters, but just the fact that we’re having this vote is a success. So that’s one thing.
Another thing is, it’s going to be very interesting after the vote what happens, because depending on sort of the political breakdown among the three major groups in Iraq– the Shias, the Sunnis, and the Kurds — they’re going to decide for the future of this country. They’re going to write the constitution. They’re then going to hold a permanent election at the end of the year. Depending on the outcome, a lot of things could happen.
GWEN IFILL: All right. Jeffrey Gettleman, thank you very much again.
JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: Thank you, Gwen.