The Big Question: Will Iraqis Show Up to Vote?

President Bush’s political fortunes are again in the hands of voters – this time, Iraqi voters.

The Bush administration has an enormous amount invested in seeing that Sunday’s elections in Iraq are a success. The insurgents are determined to see that they are not, and have launched a campaign of bombings and shootings to keep voters away from the polling places.

The best outcome would be a turnout so high and the results so well-received that the legs are cut out from under the insurgents. A more likely _ but still adequate _ outcome would be the election of a government acceptable to most of the country and one that receives recognition and support from other Arab nations. Over time, it is hoped, the rebellious Sunnis would see that their best hope is to throw in their lot with the elected government.

The worst outcome would be violence and chaos – for which the Bush administration has no Plan B.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities would deem it a success if, nationwide, turnout was 50 percent of the 15 million voters. In some Sunni areas, any turnout at all would be a success.

Bush has sought to lower expectations, saying at his press conference, “The fact that they’re voting in itself is successful.” There’s something to that since Iraq’s last free election was in 1953, but what we need is a government strong enough for us to hand power over to.

Even in the best case that will take time. The Iraqis are to elect a 275-member national assembly that names a prime minister and drafts a new constitution leading up to the national election of a permanent government next December.

Iraq’s top military officer says his troops are at least six months away from taking over peacekeeping duties in the cities and towns. And the chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, says that even after the elections he expects the insurgents “will continue to fight and continue to fight hard.”

Bush knows that opposition to the war is beginning to emerge. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., has demanded that Bush set a date for withdrawal, and two-dozen House Democrats have introduced a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal. The opposition is so far confined mostly to the Democratic left, but if the election is a flop and no exit seems possible, the opposition will spread.

George W. Bush may follow Sunday’s results as closely and tensely as he did those on Nov. 2.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)