In a letter sent to president Obama on Wednesday, 28 House Democrats called on the White House to subsidize efforts to keep Iraq's elections on track -- with an eye, they wrote, to ensuring that U.S. troop withdrawals likewise proceed on schedule.
Obama ought to allocate emergency funding, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and the other signatories said, to help nongovernmental organizations send poll watchers to Iraq. They also recommended that the White House encourage other international groups to help that effort and apply diplomatic pressure within Iraq to make sure the elections -- which were originally slated for last month -- are free of fraud, open to all candidates, and held on March 7, as is now planned.
If the elections are seen as corrupt, the Democrats warned, Iraq is likely to see "wide-scale violence" reminiscent of the popular uprisings in Afghanistan and Iran following clear evidence of electoral fraud.
But whatever the result, the signatories demanded that Obama hold firm to the standing troop withdrawal agreement between the United States and Iraq, which will limit U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by August and requires full troop withdrawal by the end of 2011.
"We believe that it is important that your administration deliver a clear message to the Iraqi government and people that, while we are committed to helping Iraqis stabilize their country, we will not change our withdrawal plans based on the date or outcome of the elections," the letter reads.
Fair-election advocates in Iraq got a boost earlier Wednesday when Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission announced that the roughly 500 candidates blacklisted from the upcoming election will be allowed on the ballot after all. That doesn't mean they get to win, though -- if an appeals court later finds that one of the candidates belonged to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party, they'll be disqualified regardless of the election results.
The signatories on Wednesday's letter to Obama included House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Middle East subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)