The most significant opponents of the election are clearly the Sunni insurgency, composed of former Baathists, Sunni nationalists and Islamists (mostly local, although with small numbers of foreigners, most notably the Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who recently became al-Qaeda's man in Iraq). That's because they're waging a campaign of terror to intimidate would-be candidates, electoral workers and voters from showing up at the polls. The insurgency is believed to number some 20,000 to 40,000 hard-core fighters, although Iraq's interim intelligence chief says it is able to call on a wider pool of up to 200,000 Iraqis for active support. For Islamists such as Zarqawi, the campaign is a rejection of democracy per se, and a reiteration of his demand for clerical rule. But for the former Baathists, the strategic logic may be that keeping Sunnis out of the process would deny the new government legitimacy. Democracy in Iraq will strip the Sunni minority of its traditional elite status, and the insurgents may hope to further deepen their alienation from the new order so that they continue to serve as a social base for a long-term insurgency. Also, an election that brings the Shiites, many of whose leading parties are traditionally close to Iran, to power may also suit their agenda, because it will leave much of the Arab world uncomfortable with the outcome.
A Look at the Candidates
Iraq Reading Room
Unarmed groups such as the influential Sunni Muslim Scholars Association are calling for a boycott of the polls, questioning their legitimacy and insisting that elections can't be held as long as U.S. troops remain in the country. They may share some of the political goals and concerns of the insurgency, but they insist that a non-violent call for a boycott is a legitimate democratic protest tactic.
A number of Sunni organizations, most importantly the popular Iraqi Islamic Party which actually participated in Allawi's government, have pulled out of the election on the grounds that the security situation precludes a credible vote in Sunni areas. These groups joined others, such as former foreign minister Adnan Pachachi and even President Ghazi al-Yawer in urging that consideration be given to postponing the poll in order to improve the security environment in Sunni population centers. When their pleas for postponement were turned down, some like Yawer and Pachachi chose to participate, while others like the Islamic Party withdrew, although they didn't actively call for a boycott. The wild card in the pack is radical Shiite populist Moqtada al-Sadr, whose organization has mass support among urban Shiite youth in Baghdad. Sadr, who has twice tangled with U.S. forces in epic confrontations, has hedged his bets, with some of his known supporters joining the UIA list under Sistani's auspices, while other spokesmen for his movement have publicly questioned the legitimacy of the election. Sadr appears to be hedging his bets, retaining a foothold in Sistani's alliance at the same time as positioning himself to capitalize on any Shiite unhappiness at the outcome.