In its struggle to transfer sovereignty back to Iraq last spring, the Bush administration made some tough decisions about the makeup of the political system and how Iraqi elections could occur quickly and fairly. But now a little-noticed decision on election procedures has come back to haunt administration officials, just weeks before the vote is to take place, administration and United Nations officials say.
The fundamental decision set up one nationwide vote for a new national assembly, rather than elections by districts and provinces. With a violent insurgency spreading through the Sunni Arab areas of the country, it now looks as if fewer Sunnis will vote, distorting the balance of the legislature and casting doubt on whether the election will be seen as legitimate.
Considering the endless difficulties we see in the U.S. over redrawing district lines, which is done by those who have already been elected to a government perceived as legitimate, it is hard to imagine how that line drawing could have gone well, even if much more time were taken. The headline has the "U.S. Haunted" by the decision – ostensibly made by Carina Perelli, chief of the United Nations electoral assistance mission in Iraq – but the regret of the decision is only traced to "some" former aides of Paul Bremer, the former American administrator in Iraq. Bremer himself has not expressed regrets, nor have White House officials.
Presumably, if a plan with districting had been adopted, an alternate set of problems would be "haunting" us now. You can't compare the idea of district voting to the reality of a nationwide vote. In fact, other former Bremer aides say that districting was preferred as an idea but "the practical problems were overwhelming." The Times seems to identify fixing the January election date as the root problem, and yet a later date would have brought its own set of practical problems. Practical people must move forward under the conditions that exist, and, presumably, practical people are in charge and don't sit around feeling haunted by what might have been.
The problem of underrepresentation of Sunnis in a future legislature has already stirred talk among Americans, Iraqis and United Nations officials of making adjustments after the voting. Among the ideas being discussed are simply adding seats to the 275-member legislature, or guaranteeing that the future government or constitution-writing committees have a fixed percentage of Sunni representatives.
UPDATE: The article I've linked here appears on the front page of the Sunday Times. I wrote that post before I reached the Op-Ed page, where I see now that is a piece written by Larry Diamond, the same Bremer aide who is the source for the main quote expressing negativity about the nationwide election. He recommends postponing the election.