About 7 million Iraqis go to the polls June 20 to take part in what the country's Baath party rulers hail as "a great democratic experiment." The voters will be choosing 250 members of a national assembly (parliament), whose establishment was decreed in a draft law published December 1979, and subsequently promulated by Iraq's Baathist-dominated Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).
The assembly will be the first national popular forum the Iraqi people have enjoyed since the country's monarchy was swept away in 1958. And today's Iraqi rulers dismiss that previous body as "a club for landowners and aristocrats."
But the new assembly will enjoy few more powers under Baathist president and strong man Saddam Hussein than the former parliament did under the monarchy.
And the elections come in the wake of a new campaign by the London-based organization Amnesty Internationa, which criticizes the Iraqi regime for its ill-treatment of political prisoners.
For the Baathists, such criticism are certainly irritating, especially at a time when they are trying to improve their image in Europe and the West generally. (Foreign Minister Sadun Hammadi has just completed a visit to France , and reported that French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing will be visiting Iraq this fall.)
But the Baathists see themselves as torchbearers for a new Arab renaissance, whose historic progress cannot be blocked by sniping from Western liberals, any more than from local Iraqi communists, the Zionists in the international media, or the "Persian thugs" now ruling across the border in Iran.
A recent commentary in the official Iraqi Baghdad Obserber gave some idea of how the present elections fit into the Baathists' scheme of things.
"The Baathist democracy," it said, ". . . is different from other liberal capitalist and communist practices and ideas.
"The Baathist democracy is an expression of the Arab people's will in Iraq and a summary of public opinion in it under central leadership. . . . It is a confirmation for the correct balance between centralism and democracy."
In the same issue of the paper, the governor of Baghdad spelled out just where this balance would be fixed, echoing the RCC's decree on the subject when he said that the national assembly, "will participatem in legislative activities and practice the authority of supervising governmental establishments."
The governor himself has had an important role in the elections, since he has had to approve personally all candidates standing in constituencies in the capital.
Given that undesirable candidates already would have been weeded out by this official endorsement process, analysts are expecting that the results of the one day's polling will be relatively "democratic."