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Congratulations, Iraqis!

Posted by Richard on March 8, 2010

Hearty congratulations to the brave people of Iraq! Once again, they risked life and limb to flock to the polling stations. Al Qaeda promised to disrupt the election, and there were indeed a number of violent attacks. But the people of Iraq were determined to choose their own government and could not be deterred even by threat of death:

It takes a cynical mind not to share in the achievement of Iraq's national elections. Bombs and missiles, al Qaeda threats and war fatigue failed to deter millions of Iraqis of all sects and regions from exercising a right that is rare in the Arab world. Even the U.N.'s man in Baghdad called the vote "a triumph."

On Sunday, 61% of eligible voters came out in Anbar Province, a former extremist stronghold that includes the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi. In the last national elections five years ago, 3,375 people—or 2%—voted in Anbar. The other Sunni-dominated provinces that boycotted in 2005 saw similar numbers: over 70% turnout in Diyala and Salaheddin and 67% in Nineveh, all higher than the national average of 62%. American Presidential elections rarely have such turnout.

Al Qaeda as well as Sunni and Shiiite extremist groups were defeated militarily by the surge, and this election continues the trend toward settling disputes through politics, not bombs. The remaining terrorists, far weaker and organized in smaller cells, tried hard to deter voting. Thirty-eight people died in various mortar, rocket and bomb attacks on election day. But the attackers had trouble getting near voting stations, and security in Baghdad and elsewhere was good and Iraqis brushed off these threats.

The election result itself is up for grabs and won't be known for several days. Incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs to build a new coalition with skeptical Shiite and Kurd parties. Though Shiite himself, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi attracted Sunni votes to his nationalist secular block. The Kurdish coalition may split.

But the very uncertainty about the results is a sign of democracy's advance, and the drama won't go unnoticed in a Middle East where the victories are always landslides for the ruling party. The contrast with Iran's stolen 2009 vote couldn't be more dramatic, and even Al-Jazeera ran special coverage around the clock.

With the help and protection of coalition forces led by the U.S., Iraqis first voted in free elections a little over five years ago. On December 15, 2005, Iraq became the first constitutional republic in the Arab world, a truly momentous event that will hopefully lead to profound changes in that region in the future.

Yesterday, they reaffirmed their commitment to a democratic form of government. My hat's off to the people of Iraq for the courage and commitment they've shown and to the United States Armed Forces for making this possible. 

And to George W. Bush for believing that democracy and freedom are transformative

Iraqi woman with purple finger and tear in her eye

(Photo is from 2005. See this post.)

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