Dec 23, 2004, Prime Minister Allawi

A Historic Moment for All Iraqis
Ballots will prove to be more powerful than bullets.

Thursday, December 23, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

BAGHDAD--In just over one month's time, the citizens of Iraq will be presented with a unique opportunity to close a chapter of decades of tyrannical rule and take their first steps to shape their own future by participating in the first free and fair elections in generations. On Jan. 30, Iraqis will vote for the Iraqi National Assembly to enable the drafting of a permanent constitution, in preparation for full elections for a government one year later.

As the Iraqi Interim Government, we have been active these past months in preparing and paving the road to these elections. Along with our allies from the multinational forces, we have waged a tireless and determined fight against the criminals, terrorists, and Saddam loyalists who are dedicated to derailing Iraq on its approach to democracy. At the same time we have been engaged in rebuilding the country, while reaching out to all of Iraq's diverse communities so as to ensure an inclusive and representative electoral process. In this regard I recently met with senior Iraqi tribal leaders in Jordan and encouraged them to participate in this historic event.

On the economic side, we have also achieved an important breakthrough in securing an 80% debt reduction for Iraq with the Paris Club group of major lending countries. We appreciate that the United States has in turn written off our remaining debt to it. We hope to build on this momentum to agree equal or better debt reduction arrangements with other creditor countries, including those among our Arab neighbors. This will be an important requirement if Iraq is to have a hope of building the economic prosperity that is so vital to its stability and security, and indeed to that of the entire region.

Turning to the conduct of the elections next month, and despite all the pessimism by the skeptics, we see encouraging signs as Iraqis enthusiastically register to vote, and thousands of candidates from across the political spectrum put themselves forward for election. The cowardly targeting of voter registration centers by terrorists demonstrates their fear of the coming fulfillment of Iraq's aspirations for democracy and freedom.

I have recently submitted our national unity slate of candidates "Al-Iraqiya"--the Iraqi List, made up of a broad and representative set of respected individuals mirroring the rich geographical, ethnic and religious mix of the country. We see this mix in Iraq as a source of strength and talent, and not as a reason for factionalism and discrimination. Our goal is a united Iraq--safe, secure, and prosperous.

We are reaching out to all Iraqis in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation, and will continue to draw a clear distinction between criminals of the former regime and those who are innocent of such crimes but found it necessary to join the Baath Party to earn a living. All those who respect the rule of law will be respected by us and given the opportunity to live as productive citizens. Those who choose crime and terror will be defeated.

We will fight bias and factionalism in all its forms, and seek to include all ethnic and religious communities. We will aim to build strong and honest governmental institutions, and strive to stamp out corruption in all areas of Iraqi life. We will work to restore the rights of those who suffered under the previous regime, while enabling the progress of a free media and strong institutions for civil society.

We aim to continue the rebuilding of the Iraqi Army as a professional, apolitical, and meritocratic institution, as well as the responsible rebuilding of the police and other vital security services. We will also work towards orderly withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq according to a specific timetable--based on building sufficient capability in the Iraqi security forces.

Finally, and in tandem with our focus on security, we plan to focus on the rebuilding of Iraq's economy and infrastructure, so as to provide much-needed employment and decent public services. Iraq's oil wealth will be developed and used for the good of the people, and education, health care and a social safety net for the disadvantaged will all be among our top priorities.

The elections next month will be transparent and competitive, supervised across the country by the thousands of brave workers of the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq, and by international organizations including the U.N. Iraqis will have over 250 different parties and political entities from which to choose--a far cry from the farcical referendum with Saddam as the single candidate who received 100% of the vote. They will be conducted in the open and under public scrutiny, and though these elections and the ones the year after will not by themselves create a democracy, they will be a major landmark event of huge significance. The resulting National Assembly will be one of the most important in our history--responsible for drafting our permanent constitution which will then be put to referendum for approval by the people. In addition, there will be voting for the 18 provincial councils and for the Kurdish Assembly, reflecting the important role of local government in the new democratic Iraq.

For all these reasons, it is not surprising that there has been robust debate about the timing and modalities for these elections. The debate is a positive sign that Iraqis take these elections extremely seriously and understand their significance for the future of our country and indeed the wider region. Just as we and the vast majority of Iraqis are determined that the elections will go forward on time however, there are those--a combination of terrorists and loyalists of the former regime--who will attempt to derail the process with barbaric and cowardly acts of violence, such as the recent horrific bombings in Najaf and Karbala and the brutal murders of brave Iraqi election officials. Though such attacks may escalate in the coming weeks as we approach the elections, they cannot and will not be allowed to achieve their destructive aims. As Iraqis, we will refuse to be divided and cowed into fear by such criminals. We will stand firm.

Ballots will prove far more powerful than bullets in the end, and the will of the peaceful majority of Iraqis will triumph over the terror tactics of a hateful few. To this mission, I and my colleagues from the Interim Government pledge ourselves, and we call upon the governments and citizens of our allies in the international community and our neighbors in the region to do their utmost to support Iraq at this critical juncture. A free and secure Iraq will be a victory for all peace-loving people, and we Iraqis face a historic opportunity that we shall not squander.

Dr. Allawi is prime minister of Iraq.

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