Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Thoughts on Iraq's Elections

At the risk of hyperbole, Sunday's events mark a sea change in the politics of the Middle East. This was arguably the most open election ever held in the Arab world. The spectacle of Iraqis ignoring the threats of the jihadists and openly embracing democracy can't help but have an impact in the broader region. Much work remains to be done, the election was merely the beginning of a year long process that will culminate in the drafting of a constitution and the election of a permanent government. Still, it was an essential first step that bodes well for the future.

First and foremost, the success belongs to the Iraqi people, who had the courage to go out and vote in defiance of the terrorist threats. While turnout was depressed in much of the Sunni Triangle, the overall percentage of voters casting ballots was comparable to that here in the US last November. The ridiculous notion that Iraqis, or Arabs, aren't interested in democracy and freedom has been dispensed with once and for all.

Sunday was also a major victory for the Iraqi security forces. By all accounts they stood their ground and performed well, a number of them giving their lives in the process. Yes, they still have a long ways to go, but their success on Sunday will give the Iraqi army and police a huge morale boost.

Finally, this election was a tribute to our men and women in uniform, and those of our coalition allies, whose heroic, tireless efforts over the last two years made this incredible event possible. My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. The casualties we and our allies have suffered are painful indeed. However, just as 36,000 Americans gave their lives to allow the creation of a free South Korea that became a crucial ally during the Cold War, so those who have given their lives in Iraq have made possible the Arab world's first genuine democracy.

One of the main criticisms made against the Bush Administration is its supposed failure to engage in the "war of ideas" with al-Qaeda and the jihadists. Yesterday's events did far more to win the "war of ideas" than any number of speeches, broadcasts or pamphlets. Two years ago, Iraq was ruled by a genocidal, totalitarian thug who brutally oppressed his people, fostered the spread of Islamism and anti-Americanism, and threatened the security of the entire region. Now, in that very same country, the dictator sits in a prison cell, while 8 million Iraqi men and women went to exercise their right to vote. Osama bin Laden, his "emir" in Iraq al-Zarqawi, and other Islamists lined up to denounce democracy as an "infidel" institution, yet millions of Iraqis danced in the streets and proudly waved their ink-stained fingers in celebration of their freedom. In terms of the "war of ideas" with al-Qaeda, Iraq's elections were the equivalent of dropping an H-bomb.

Ali at Free Iraqi best captured the spirit of the day, sentiments that I echo heartily:

A'ash Al Iraq, A'ashat America, A'ash Al Tahaluf.
(Long live Iraq, long live America and long live the coalition)


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