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Analysis: Iraq's Domestic Media Active In Election Discourse

News of Iraq's upcoming January elections has dominated the pages of Iraq's major dailies in recent weeks, to some extent crowding out the more detailed coverage of the growing insurgency, the presence of multinational forces, and even the workings of the interim administration.

Newspapers in Iraq have been offering up a barrage of daily reports and opinion pieces over the past month on a variety of election-related subjects. Politicians and religious leaders "in the know" have commented on election developments, as the official Electoral Commission has detailed information on the mechanisms established to become a candidate and on voting. Articles have appeared on voter-education seminars that are being offered by political parties and organizations; the likelihood of whether or not expatriates will be allowed to vote from abroad, whether Sunnis will participate in the elections, as well as the political maneuverings as the parties work to forge alliances and place their candidates on election lists that will meet the stringent requirements established by the commission.

But perhaps the most salient barometer of the "mood" in Iraq can be found on the editorial pages of Iraq's dailies. Commentaries overwhelmingly support the elections and offer intelligent and well-constructed viewpoints on a variety of election-related topics. Writers regularly demand that the Electoral Commission provide more information on the election process, and call on the Iraqi people to cast their ballots on election day.
The diversity of opinions to be found on the pages of political dailies is encouraging and demonstrates a strong desire by Iraqis to make the nation's first democratic elections as democratic as possible.

Writers publishing in a variety of newspapers supporting divergent political positions appear to agree on one fact: elections should not be derailed by terrorism and instability. Most contributors have stressed the necessity of holding nationwide polling. But some writers support the idea that partial elections in stable areas would be better than no elections. "Attaining half or three-quarters of legitimacy, so to speak, is better than no legitimacy at all in order to respond to the doubters and silence the loud voices that keep accusing the government of treason and illegitimacy. They act as if the whole Arab world enjoys legitimacy and as if Iraq is the only exception in the region that has no legitimacy in the middle of [an] ocean of Arab legitimacy," Latif al-Subayhawi wrote in the 18 October edition of "Al-Dustur."

Abd-al-Husayn Salman commented on the issue of terrorism and elections in a 13 October commentary in "Al-Adalah," published by the Shi'a group the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). "The question that begs an answer is the following: Will the enemies of new Iraq succeed in their scheme? The biggest blow that can be dealt to these is when the Iraqis are able to go to the ballot boxes with peace of mind to cast their votes for the first time in their lives freely, voluntarily, and without fear to choose their representatives in the future National Assembly."

Commentaries have also noted the lack of independent candidates, with many writers fearing that the parties now in power will remain in power after the elections. The independent "moderate" trend inside the country remains unrepresented, they argue. Ali al-Basri writes in the 18 October edition of "Al-Mashriq" that, "In my humble opinion, I feel that the next elections will not solve the problem of security and stability. Although, theoretically, the elections are held in Iraq, the results will practically be 'American,' so to speak. That is to say, the United States, under any circumstances, will not allow any party or trend opposing its policies in Iraq to win. The United States will adopt offense as the best way for defense. So it will overwhelm the scene with lists of picked names seemingly clean and decent, and not considered U.S. agents. Surely these names and parties have already penetrated the Iraqi scene."

Commentaries also debate the formation of political alliances in preparation for the elections. "It is the right of every party to strike an alliance with any other party regardless of the beliefs, ideologies, and political course that each follows. Politics do not necessitate identity of visions and similarity of political discourse. What is important is agreement in their view of the situation in terms of what has existed and what must exist," Hamid Abdullah writes in the 19 October edition of "Al-Mashriq." "We have said 'goodbye' to ideological rigidity."

The dark reality of Iraq's political landscape is also addressed. Critics argue that although the leadership has changed, politics remain dominated by corruption and cronyism. "This corruption that has beset society as a result of what the Iraqi people have experienced makes us worry about the elections, that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that they would be democratic elections. Our concern is that the Iraqis will not make the right choices. The first thing that the Iraqis would be asking themselves during the elections is 'to whom do I owe allegiance now?'" writes Ibrahim Mahmud in the 23 September edition of "Al-Jaridah." "These elections will install persons who are not qualified to lead Iraq, that is, if these elections are held in a democratic fashion. The government that will be installed by these elections will be like the transitional Governing Council. And like the interim government, it will be filled with the henchmen and cronies of the former regime who still have all the means and the financial resources that will play an important role in the elections," Mahmud argues.

Iraqis can consider themselves fortunate in that a diverse media representing nearly every political trend developed very quickly in the months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. To be sure, the media in Iraq has its own set of problems and is far from meeting Western journalistic standards. But, the diversity of opinions to be found on the pages of political dailies is encouraging and demonstrates a strong desire by Iraqis to make the nation's first democratic elections as democratic as possible.