FOR MONTHS news from Iraq has told the story of the extremists, those who destroy themselves to murder others and to proclaim the cause of a religious or Baathist dictatorship. Yesterday the world saw and heard, at last, another Iraq, one in which millions of people from all over the country turned out to vote -- even in places where their nominal leaders had proclaimed a boycott, even at polling stations where mortar rounds fell or gunfire rang out. Some danced or distributed chocolates, some wept with joy, others grimly pressed forward as if their lives literally depended on it. A 32-year-old man who lost his leg in a suicide bombing arrived at the polls in Baghdad and told a Reuters reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to." There were nine suicide bombings, and at least 44 people died, including one U.S. soldier. But the day's message was unmistakable: The majority of Iraqis support the emerging democratic order in their country, and many are willing to risk their lives for it.
Just how large that majority is will become clearer in the days ahead, as votes are counted and turnout around the country is reported. Yesterday Iraqi election authorities and U.N. officials said they believed participation in Baghdad and other places had been greater than expected; one official said the national rate might approach 60 percent, though that seemed to be a rough guess. The count will also reveal whether a clerically backed, Shiite-led alliance won the plurality it expected in the 275-seat National Assembly; whether the secular coalition of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will survive as a major political force; and whether representation of the Sunni community, the base of the continuing insurgency, will be anywhere near its population share of about 20 percent. Those facts will determine the outlines of the critical Iraqi political process that now begins: first the selection of a new government, then the drafting of a constitution for a state in which majority Shiites must accommodate four other major ethnic groups, including the long-dominant Sunnis.
Where Has All the Eloquence Gone? (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
Beyond Tomorrow in Iraq (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
Zarqawi And the D-Word (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
Iraq's Election (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
Day of Loss (The Washington Post, Jan 27, 2005)
Inauguration Day (The Washington Post, Jan 20, 2005)
That course will surely be full of pitfalls, and the extremists will go on trying to kill anyone involved in it. For the emerging democratic regime to have any chance of taking root, U.S. soldiers will have to continue fighting, and dying, to protect it. The elections probably won't make their job any easier, or the price any lower, in the short term. Yesterday, however, Americans finally got a good look at who they are fighting for: millions of average people who have suffered for years under dictatorship and who now desperately want to live in a free and peaceful country. Their votes were an act of courage and faith -- and an answer to the question of whether the mission in Iraq remains a just cause.