Leading up to and throughout the Iraqi campaign, the Poles have been among our staunchest and most valued of allies. Personally, I rank them with the Aussies and behind only the Brits. Today, the commander of the Polish contingent suggested shortening the Iraqi political process and moving planned elections from late January to December.
“The sooner the better,” Maj. Gen. Andrzej Ekiert told The Associated Press in an interview from the Polish-led multinational force’s headquarters in Iraq. “With a very long political struggle you can have all sorts of unexpected situations.”
His warning came amid signs that radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose forces have been battling U.S. troops in the holy city of Najaf, may be ready to join the political process. Al-Sadr called on his followers across Iraq on Monday to end fighting against coalition and Iraqi forces.
I’m torn on this and will have to chew on it for a while. Unlike the success of the surprise early handover of power, this could not be handled in a stealthy manner. We can’t wake up one December morning and yell, “Hey, you Iraqis, go vote now.”
There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to such a move. Looking at some of the obvious plusses, the first and most important one is it shortens the time until the Iraqis have a vested interest in an elected government. It also shortens the political process, cutting al-Sadr’s opportunity to cause trouble and still play a role in the political realm. A huge disadvantage is that it abbreviates the opportunity for candidates to reach the voting public, which would definately play into the hands of already known names like al-Sadr.
Aside from his election suggestion, Ekiert tells a story that carries hope of settling down the simmering situation.
As an alternative to military action, the general cited a meeting he had Sunday with nearly 60 sheiks from Babil province, who presented him with a white rose of peace and promised to help end attacks on coalition troops in the area. He also noted that Karbala province, which is in the Polish-led force’s area of responsibility, has not been inflamed by al-Sadr’s insurgency.
“I hope that this meeting and the balanced situation in Karbala … will pour some cold water on the hot swords,” Ekiert said.
Ekiert also sent messages of caution to his countrymen opposing the continuation of the Polish mission.
He rejected the notion of an immediate pullout being pushed by some Polish opposition parties.
“It would lead to large-scale fighting, a national revolution and blood flowing in the Euphrates and Tigris instead of water,” he said.
Poland has said it will scale back its commitment in early 2005, when it expects the situation in Iraq to have stabilized after the elections. Still, Ekiert cautioned against pulling out too many troops before Iraqi forces have demonstrated that they can provide security for the country.
“I know that democracy is born in pain and here, in Iraq, you have to be very, very cautious in assessing whether this democracy is indeed complete.”
This seems to be a reasonable, rational man in charge of fine troops. This will be in the back of my mind as I give further thought to his election suggestion.