Security is the essential underpinning for holding elections in Iraq. The administration has vowed the vote will take place by the end of January, and both Washington and Iraq's interim government agree the elections have to be perceived as legitimate to be successful.
The task of election security is by itself monumental. There are expected to be about 20,000 polling places, and any of these could be a target for insurgent attacks. And if a significant portion of the population is afraid to vote, the election results will likely fuel the instability.
To get elections organized and set up, the United States needs to persuade the United Nations to send election workers. An estimated 300 are needed, but the world body so far has sent only a handful of workers, citing the lack of forces to protect them.
Equally urgent for U.S. success in Iraq is persuading donors, companies and charitable organizations to work on key construction projects and causes. That will take ingenuity.
As it is, security requirements are gobbling up the lion's share of the reconstruction funds expended so far.
Many organizations have withdrawn staff from Iraq, citing the dangers. Last week, CARE International became the latest to retreat after the kidnapping of its director in the country, Margaret Hassan. Hassan, a committed supporter of the Iraqi people, was last seen begging for her life on a video posted on an Islamist Internet site, a poignant illustration that, in the current atmosphere, no one is safe.