Monday, January 31, 2005

On how Iraqis value democracy more than we Americans.

Some 45 people were killed Sunday while the polls were open in Iraq (hundreds more were wounded). Among the dead, nine suicide bombers and two US Marines. Later in the day, after polls had closed, 10 British soldiers died when their military transport plane crashed. The cause is still unknown, although one Iraqi insurgent group has taken credit for the crash.

According to the NY Times, some 60% of Iraqis voted in the election. That would match voter turnout in the States last presidential election (which was its highest since 1968), despite the fact that not one shot was fired not bomb set off on November 3rd. In the Kurdish north and Shiite south, people turned out in droves, mostly on foot (because of election-day bans on autos), with election officials reporting long lines of Iraqis turning out to vote later in the day. The Sunni minority in central Iraq was most likely underrepresented, due to calls for a boycott of any election held while US forces still occupy Iraq. But officials have said that turnout in some Sunni areas might have been as high as 40%.

Fears that inkstained fingers would mark those who voted as objects of persecution or perhaps even assassination have so far been unfounded. In fact, as seen from pictures published worldwide, the inkstain has been laurelled as a sign of pride and independence among the Iraqi people, both at home and abroad.

Al-Qaida linked groups in Iraq are already disputing the as-yet-unknown outcome of the elections. In doing so, they have had to switch their focus from American imperialism to Iraqi democracy itself. With statements like this, "Let Bush, Blair ... know that we are the enemies of democracy," the insurgency might be shooting itself in the foot. It's one thing to be against the US led occupation, but it's another thing to oppose the idea of democracy altogether, especially when upwards of 60% of Iraqis turned out to vote!

President Bush hailed the election as a success. But most world leaders have viewed the election with guarded optimism, as they should. This is only the first in a long line of events that include the parliamentary election of a Prime Minister, the formation of a Cabinet, the writing of a Constitution, and new elections to be held next December. The insurgents, while dealt a crippling blow, will be sure to continue attacks across the country, especially at the first hint of persecution against the Sunni minority. One US diplomat commented, "If I were an insurgent I would be really bitterly disappointed at what happened yesterday....I certainly wouldn't conclude I should surrender. I would conclude that I have to show I'm still a player."

In a news conference today, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called upon Iraqis to unite under the newly elected government. "The terrorists now know that they cannot win. We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis — whether they voted or not — should stand side by side to build their future."

There's not much one can add to that. Iraqis have a long way to go yet, but based on yesterday's results, they're determined to get there, dancing in the face of violence and fear. I'll never agree with Bush that this war was necessary for American security, but I can see that things are being worked in positive ways despite our miss-steps in the war on terror. The Iraqi people and American troops deserve the credit for taking a tragic mistake and working it into an oasis of freedom in the Middle East.

Great, now I'm even beginning to sound like Bush. I'm quitting before I really embarrass myself.

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