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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqi Election Should Not Be Postponed

Elections in Iraq should proceed on Jan. 30 despite continued fighting and calls from a coalition of 17 Iraqi political parties to push them back. Expectations about what the elections could accomplish keep diminishing, but delay would only worsen matters, giving insurgents the decisive voice in when, if ever, balloting is held.

Elections would hurt the guerrillas' cause by depriving them of the claim that Iraq's rulers were imposed by invaders and lack legitimacy. The balloting would not end the insurgents' beheadings and assaults on U.S. troops. But it would start the process of installing a government chosen by Iraqis. Coupled with greater numbers of trained soldiers and police, this could lay the foundation for withdrawing the nearly 140,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered religious figure in Iraq and its most powerful Shiite cleric, has argued that elections must be held on schedule. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the population and are likely to do well at the polls. The Kurds, whose two main parties have wavered on delaying the vote, account for 20 percent. They have had more than a decade of political experience because the United States protected them from Saddam Hussein's forces after the 1991 Gulf War.

Under Hussein, the non-Kurdish Sunni minority held the top jobs. Sunni leaders are understandably concerned that it may be payback time. But the threat by many Sunni political groups to boycott the Jan. 30 elections is folly. The radical Palestinian group Hamas boycotted the 1996 elections that picked Yasser Arafat as president and installed a Palestinian Authority legislature; many Hamas leaders later regretted their loss of influence.

Most attacks in Iraq occur in Sunni strongholds in the north and west, like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra, where it would be difficult to keep polls open and voters protected. It seems certain that not every eligible Iraqi will have the opportunity to vote in January. Troubling as that is, if a majority of possible voters do get to choose a generally representative national assembly, and it succeeds in writing a constitution, millions of Iraqis will acquire a stake in their country. The election would also lay the groundwork for eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces, whose presence both angers Iraqis and reassures them that all-out civil war will not occur.

Iraq's religious and political leaders were slated to meet Monday morning to discuss unity, and "maybe elections," according to a spokesman for interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The elections are too important for a "maybe." Allawi should urge Sunni groups not to boycott, and Shiite leaders should join that effort. An assembly that represents all Iraqi groups is the country's best bet to write a government blueprint protecting minority rights and reaching consensus on important issues like the role of Islam and relations between the central government and the provinces.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.