Thursday, June 24, 2004

The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has told this newspaper that, if the security situation is stable, he would like to hold elections before January, the earliest date hitherto envisaged. If the practical obstacles to an election in, say, November are not insuperable, Mr Allawi deserves support from Britain and America in his eagerness to embrace democracy.

The legitimacy that an elected constituent assembly and government would confer on the new dispensation would refute the Islamist claim that the coalition always intended to turn post-Saddam Iraq into a puppet state. Though the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has now called off his militia, it is imperative that elections should not be delayed if further insurgencies are to be prevented...

Mr Allawi, however, has already gained the respect of his countrymen as a robust patriot.

If it is fair to judge a man by his enemies, he ranks high. During his exile, he survived an attempt on his life by agents of Saddam. Yesterday he was threatened again, this time by al-Qa'eda's leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is notorious for his televised decapitations of hostages.

Mr Allawi will need all the help he can get to defeat the terrorists, so it is encouraging that President Roh Moo-Hyun of South Korea, who has promised 3,000 troops, is not intimidated by Tuesday's murder of Kim Sun-il.

Incessant terrorist attacks have failed to destabilise Iraq, while the international context has been changed for the better by the recent UN resolution. That Iraq's prime minister is not afraid of elections is another good sign. If the new Iraq is to banish for ever its twin demons, Ba'athism and Islamism, then democracy is not a luxury, but a matter of urgency.

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