On Thursday -- with just over three weeks left before nationwide elections are supposed to take place -- the commander of American ground forces in Iraq told reporters that four key provinces of the country are still not secure enough for citizens to vote.
Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, reports the Times, "said military operations were being stepped up to make all areas of the four troubled provinces -- which together contain more than half the population of Iraq -- safe enough for the vote to be held as scheduled on Jan. 30.
"'Today I would not be in much shape to hold elections in those provinces,' General Metz said. 'Those are the four areas that we see enough attacks that we are going to continue to focus our energies.'
"General Metz said Iraq's 14 other provinces were more or less ready to hold elections as scheduled. Security at some 9,000 polling places will be provided largely by Iraqi security forces, he said, with American forces standing back unless they are called in. Though Iraqi security forces have often performed poorly in the face of insurgent attacks, General Metz expressed confidence that the Iraqi forces, which now number about 127,000, could handle the job.
"The 127,000 figure for the Iraqi forces falls far short of the 270,000 Iraqi officials have estimated are needed to secure the country on election day. General Metz said he could not guarantee the safety of every Iraqi who wanted to cast a ballot."
Overall, not a terribly encouraging assessment if you're an Iraqi. But as President Bush said today at the White House, "democracy is hard."
"Our own country's had a history of kind of a bumpy road toward democracy," he added.
Perhaps Bush was even referring to the 2004 vote that put him back in office? The U.S. electoral system, as we all know, still has plenty of problems of its own. The Center for American Progress has a good roundup today of the many reasons why electoral reform should be high on lawmakers' agendas, from long lines to unreliable electronic-voting machines to biased election officiating.