Election run-up likely to raise violence in Iraq

Bob Tippee

Elections raise prospects for a further escalation of violence and more disruption to oil flow in and from Iraq.

Violence, already rising, will increase in the run-up to elections in Iraq next year and possibly in the US in November.

Attacks on Iraqi oil pipelines and on US and Iraqi troops increased ominously after rebel Shiite cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr asked supporters at the end of August to suspend violence.

Al-Sadr's request, which eased 3 weeks of tension in the holy city of Najaf, came after the moderate Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned to Iraq from London to demonstrate that he, rather than al-Sadr, had support of the country's majority Shiite population.

The drama showed that most Iraqi Shiites prefer democracy to violence and want elections to proceed.

But power-hungry factions less likely to do well at the polls want the opposite. They include militant Baathists left over from the regime of deposed President Saddam Hussein, non-Iraqi terrorists, and renegade supporters of al-Sadr.

When Al-Sadr acquiesced to Al-Sistani, ended his occupation of a sacred mosque, and said he'd give politics a try, pressure on groups opposing elections intensified. Unfortunately, they discharge political pressure through violence. This tendency explains why attacks on US and Iraqi troops recently rose to as many as 70/day.

Iraqi militants also understand that reelection prospects of US President George W. Bush depend greatly on public assessment of events in Iraq and that the US public is very sensitive to body counts.

If the militants hope Bush loses, which they probably would no matter who ran against him, they'll strengthen their efforts to kill Americans and American allies.

Iraqi is therefore likely to become more dangerous before it becomes safer. Iraqi oil supply, which has fallen recently because of pipeline sabotage, is likely to become more intermittent before it stabilizes and grows.

There is growing reason to believe, however, that Iraq indeed will become safer than it is now and that its oil exports will stabilize.

The reason is the behavior of militants opposing democracy and prosperity in Iraq. It's more desperate now than ever.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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