Iraq's election campaign officially got under way last week, and it is unlike anything Americans have seen.
About 80 blocs, representing 230 political parties, are fielding candidates for 275 seats in the transitional assembly. Seats will be awarded to various parties based on the proportion of the vote that they receive, and the process has been skewed to ensure that at least one-fourth of the seats go to women.
After the Jan. 30 vote, the new assembly will make laws, draft a constitution and appoint a prime minister. If a constitution is approved on schedule, another round of elections could take place in December 2005 and a fully constitutional government might assume power by the end of that year.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is an American ally, and his supporters are expected to win enough seats that he will continue to be in charge. However, that isn't a sure thing particularly if there is substance to a British Broadcasting Corp. report that ally-turned-adversary Ahmed Chalabi's faction may join forces in the assembly with an alliance headed by supporters of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Regardless who wins, the U.S. presence may wind down before much longer. The interim government will review the status in early summer and it could ask the Americans to leave at any time. When that request comes, from an elected government, it should be honored.
The dream of a new Iraq apparently will soon be realized. May it be a shining example for its neighbors.
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
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