How Will Iraq Vote Compare to Afghan Elections?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 7, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: Afghanistan leader Hamid Karzai (search) was sworn in as the nation's first democratically elected president. Today's historic ceremony shows what's possible when a nation, once under the boot of terrorism, has the freedom to finally vote.

Certainly hope that this lesson will not be lost on folks in Iraq, where elections are scheduled at the end of January.

Les Campbell is a senior associate at the National Democratic Institute (search), which is helping to promote democracy across the world.

And that's today's big question: will elections in Iraq be as successful as they were in Afghanistan? Go ahead, jump on in there. That's the question for you. Do you expect the elections in Iraq to be successful, like they were in Afghanistan?

There was a lot of talk at the beginning of the elections in Afghanistan that it would really be a security nightmare.

LES CAMPBELL, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE: Well, the elections in Iraq will be different than Afghanistan. Afghanistan, in a sense, had some stability, a little bit of normality, before elections. Normality and stability won't return to Iraq until after elections.

So in Iraq, the elections, I would argue, are a precursor to the start of stability. Elections in Afghanistan, although it's certainly not the end of the line in Afghanistan, came at the end of a certain period of a certain amount of stability.

So, it's a little bit different; I actually am optimistic. I expect elections in Iraq to be well attended, I think people will vote, I think parties will take part and I suspect at the end of January we'll see that Iraq has taken a fairly significant step forward.

NAUERT: Well, what do you say to those who claim the election won't be a legitimate election because of Sunni under-representation, for example?

CAMPBELL: Well, it's possible, although of the 100 and some-odd parties that are registered thus far, at least 30 have Sunni representation; Sunni leadership; come from Sunni geographical areas. So, if the Sunni population of Iraq chooses to vote, they will have representation. In other words, they will have parties and leaders that are in the chase that are in the competition.

Putting security aside — and I can address security in a second — putting security aside, I think the Sunni population of Iraq will realize that they have to vote; that they want to be part of an assembly that, for example, writes a constitution.

They want to be part of the decisions that are going to really set the tone for their lives. So, I suspect the Sunni population will vote.

Security is a different matter. It's possible that the security situation could deteriorate further, and it's possible that many ordinary Iraqis wouldn't want to take a chance on getting killed and being in the middle of a bomb in the wrong place at the wrong time.

NAUERT: Well, in Afghanistan, for example, something like 15 to 20 election workers were actually killed by members of the Taliban and others who didn't want to see democracy.

But in Iraq we have seen a far different situation, where people have been threatened, people are fearful of even registering to vote. It seems to be more extreme example in Iraq.

CAMPBELL: Well, Iraq is very extreme but the stakes are high. One of the things about Iraq is that the prize is great. Iraq is potentially a very wealthy country with its oil riches and other riches.

Controlling Iraq is a huge prize, and so much of what we're seeing is a political struggle, and it may get worse. It may be that Election Day, or the days leading up to the election, are extremely violent.

I don't think that that violence will stop Iraqis from voting. I think that even ordinary Iraqis understand that an election is a step that will eventually — well, one of the first steps that is necessary to lead to a real resolution. I suspect that they will get out even under conditions of violence and vote.

NAUERT: Well, the Iraqis have certainly proven their resilience time and time again after we see some of these brave men and women who are just showing up to try to get a job, and they get killed, and they show up again the next day, or others do.

They don't seem to be deterred from trying to get jobs, for example. But how can we, as Americans who are over there, try to encourage or try to help Iraqis feel more secure with the vote? What is it that America can do?

CAMPBELL: I think there are a couple of things. Iraqis need to know that the vote leads to something.

So, one of the things that the U.S. can start telegraphing now is that a vote that leads to a legitimate government; that leads to a constitution, also will be the beginning of the end for Iraqi troops — pardon me — for American troops in Iraq.

In other words, Iraqis need to know that their country will become fully sovereign, that they will take full control over their own security, over their own destiny. So, I think the U.S. needs to telegraph that.

The U.S. needs...

NAUERT: But the U.S. doesn't seem to be winning that hearts and minds campaign necessarily now. So is there something that the Americans should be doing differently?

CAMPBELL: I think it's a mix. I think it's a mixed bag. I think the U.S. is winning some hearts and minds. Many Iraqis appreciate what has happened. They appreciate getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

They, while maybe wishing the U.S. to leave in some ways, appreciate the presence of the troops to provide some security. Iraq would be much worse without the U.S. troops right now.

Having said that, the U.S. has to have a clear plan, a clear timetable for leaving, and an election is a necessary first step. It's not the only step, and things are not going to be solved magically after the election, but it's a necessary first step. I think Iraqis understand that very clearly.

They understand that one of the steps they need to take is to make a vote for their own destiny. They will do that at the end of January. But the U.S., for its part, has to provide as much security as it can and then say very clearly that this is a first step for the U.S. removing, eventually, its presence in Iraq.

NAUERT: Lastly, let me ask you: are there any lessons that we learned in Afghanistan that can be applied to Iraq?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think there are a number of lessons.

For example, Hamid Karzai was, in a sense, not given as much credit for authority as he deserved. I think people in Afghanistan appreciated what he had done. They appreciated that he had international backing.

So, I think that we shouldn't write off a number of politicians in Iraq right now and imagine that only extremists will do well. I think a number of people in the moderate middle in Iraq will do well. I think a number of Sunni politicians will do well.

The second lesson, I think, is that we have to understand that this is really not about the U.S.; it's not about our future; it's about Iraqis' future. I think that in Afghanistan we are now celebrating the fact that Afghanistan has taken this next step.

I think that in Iraq we can do the same thing. We can provide as much support to Iraqi politicians, parties, voters, as we possibly can. As the U.S., we can try to provide security and then let them take the next step.

NAUERT: OK, Les, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks a lot for joining us and for your insights, as well.

CAMPBELL: Thank you.

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