Iraq Election Too Dangerous for Monitors

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2005 — -- From the United Nations in New York to a secret location in Amman, Jordan, international observers will be watching Iraqis vote from a safe distance.

"I cannot recall another situation like this," said David Carroll of the Carter Center. "It tells you how dangerous and insecure the environment is in Iraq that observers feel it's unsafe to go there."

Carroll is one of 800 observers who watched Palestinians vote earlier this month. More than 100 monitored Afghans voting in October, but only a handful of Westerners will witness voting inside Iraq.

'It's Going to Be Dangerous'

Les Campbell, an observer from Canada, said, "It's going to be dangerous and people are going to die on election day. There is no doubt about that."

But Carlos Valenzuela, the United Nations' chief election adviser, said, "electoral observation is not an essential ingredient for the elections to be credible."

Still, more than 45,000 Iraqis have volunteered to monitor the polls themselves. Election officials hope Iraqi voters will be just as brave.

"They are going to walk, in some cases, half a mile or a mile to closest polling stating station," said Campbell, "knowing the whole time they may be shot or killed."

Despite violence leading up the election in Afghanistan, more than 70 percent of those eligible voted there.

Rich Williamson, who observed that turnout, said, "The desire for freedom and the commitment to participate and to play a role is great, and I think we'll see it demonstrated in Iraq."

Better Turnout Than United States?

White House officials are deliberately vague about what they think constitutes a successful election, but a high-ranking Iraqi says the 60 percent voter turnout in November's presidential contest in the United States is a good benchmark.

"I predict to you that voter turnout in the Iraqi election will be better than voter turnout in U.S. elections," said Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

Ultimately, election observers say, the Iraqi people will determine if the outcome is credible.

"The legitimacy of this election is not going to be decided by a bunch of armchair analysts in Jordan or Canada or in Washington," said Campbell. "It really will be decided by the Iraqi population. They are going to decide whether or not this election represents their will."

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