Thursday, December 15, 2005

Even in Fallujah votes beat bullet

Times Online reported The assassin leant from his car at twilight and pumped a single bullet into the chest of Fallujah’s mufti Sheikh Hamza al-Assawi, silencing the cleric who had courted danger by spearheading the drive for Sunnis to vote. A few days earlier the city’s police chief fought off gunmen mounting the fifth attempt on his life in recent months. They have killed 11 of his men. And yet Fallujah, the insurgent stronghold that just 12 months ago was in flames after an all-out assault by US Marines, is today likely to act as a beacon for participation by Sunnis across the troubled Anbar province. Sunni participation will give this election — and subsequent government — a legitimacy impossible for the January poll, which saw widespread Sunni boycott.

Has hell frozen over? I am not surprised that the Iraqis are voting, but the Times Online ran a heading: "Even in Fallujah, votes beat bullet"
Then a tiny percentage of Anbar voted. But, after a change of heart by clerics and political leaders who saw themselves marginalised in the resulting Shia-led Parliament, participation in October’s constitutional referendum increased to 30 per cent across the province, with more than 90 per cent in Fallujah itself. Iraqis expect even greater numbers to turn out in Sunni areas today. Southeast of Fallujah, in the “triangle of death”, Iraqi election officials who risked being run out of polling stations in January now report a surge in demand for election materials.

In Fallujah the fortunate police chief, Brigadier General Salah al-Ani, is confident that his fellow Sunnis recognised their mistake. He is backed by townspeople. Ahmed Abdul Razaq, 37, a store owner, said: “We should have political representation to serve our rights. Even the military resistance here has realised this, and some groups have mentioned that they are going to have their people participating.”
Ballots are definitely better than bullets.
Western diplomats cannot conceal their delight: “This is not just strategic turf for the US, it is strategic turf for al-Zarqawi and the extremists. They remember what this place was a year ago, it was a green zone for Zarqawi and it is no longer,” a US diplomat in Fallujah said. But the question remains whether the ballot will marginalise the bullet in the longer term, or if the Sunni insurgents will simply wield both.
If the Shia are smart they will tell the Sunnis that the insurgency must end, or they (the Sunnis) will not be allowed into the backroom deals to try to form a coalition government

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