Monday, December 26, 2005

Now That Elections Are Over in Iraq, Are Combat Operations and Violence Over?

At least 24 people were killed today in Iraq by post-election violence. It doesn't help that Sunnis and secular Shiites are enraged over what looks like serious fraud in the recent parliamentary elections.

Officials blamed the surge in violence on insurgent efforts to deepen the political turmoil surrounding the contested vote. Preliminary figures -- including some returns released Monday from ballots cast early by expatriate Iraqis and some voters inside Iraq -- have given a big lead to the religious Shiite bloc that controls the current interim government.

The violence came as three opposition groups threatened a wave of protests and civil disobedience if fraud charges are not properly investigated. The warning came from the secular Iraqi National List, headed by former Shiite Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and two Sunni Arab groups.

Iraq's Electoral Commission said Monday that final results for the 275-seat parliament could be released in about a week.

Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions are demanding that an international body review more than 1,500 complaints, warning they may boycott the new legislature. They also want new elections in some provinces, including Baghdad. The United Nations has rejected an outside review.

"We will resort to peaceful options, including protests, civil disobedience and a boycott of the political process until our demands are met," Hassan Zaidan al-Lahaibi, of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, said in neighboring Jordan, where representatives of the groups have met in recent days.

Airborne violence has increased, too. The WaPo reported on Saturday that in the last several months, U.S. airstrikes on Iraq have soared from 62 in September to 120 in November.

Several U.S. officers involved in operations in Iraq attributed much of the increase to a series of ground offensives in western Anbar province. Those offensives, conducted by U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces, were aimed at clearing foreign fighters and other insurgents from the Euphrates River Valley and establishing Iraqi control over the Syrian border area.

But Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen G. Peck, deputy commander of the U.S. air operations center in the region, said the higher strike numbers also reflected more aggressive military operations in other parts of Iraq that were undertaken to improve security for last week's national elections.

"I'm hard-pressed to provide a single definitive explanation for the increase," Peck said in a telephone interview.

Many Bush supporters have been crowing since the Dec. 15 elections that the high turnout proves America can impose democracy at gunpoint. But all it proves is that Iraqis wanted to vote, which is a no-brainer. Voting alone does not equate to democracy, when the only thing that makes the voting possible is massive military power.

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