“Iraqis flock to polls,” read the large print headline in the Boston Globe on Jan. 31. I hadn’t seen a headline so large in that paper since they proudly proclaimed the beginning of gay marriage in Massachusetts last May.
The remarkable success of Iraq’s first democratic elections in half a century cannot be overstated. Turnout numbers vary, but at least 60% of the country showed up at the polls, even with the hovering threat of disruptions by insurgents. The brave, patriotic Iraqis who did vote sent a convincing message to the naysayers around the world that the democratic process can, and will, work for their country.
Also red-faced these days are people who favored postponing the elections to a later date. Insurgent attacks were lower than expected, and while every lost life is significant, the suicide bombers and other like-minded animals were not the main story of the day.
In a way, the elections were the culmination of America’s two-year operation in Iraq. First we removed the brutal tyrant, who had spent the previous 25 years operating his country with an iron fist and defying the rest of the world. Then came the transfer of sovereignty to an interim government last June. Now this – Iraqis going to the polls and electing their own representative government. This process has certainly been more difficult than the Bush administration anticipated, which makes this success even more fulfilling.
Unable to denounce the elections as a horrible failure, leading Democrats instead want to minimize their impact and are calling for a troop removal timetable. John Kerry does not want us to “overhype this election.” On the heels of one of the most historic days in Iraq’s history, Ted Kennedy last week used the “Q” word (quagmire) and demanded the immediate withdrawal of 12,000 American troops.
Iraqis should not worry about that. Thankfully, neither Kennedy nor Kerry is our president. And this President Bush is not like his father, who 14 years ago effectively urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam Hussein and then jumped ship. George W. Bush says what he means, and means what he says. We will not leave Iraq until they are in a position to operate without us.
In the meantime, we should take in with pride the support of democracy shown by Iraqis. Safia Taleb al-Suhail, an Iraqi women who voted for the first time and whose husband was killed by Saddam’s regime, was at Bush’s State of the Union address on Feb. 2. How could you not get choked up at the sight of her embracing Janet Norwood, mother of a marine killed in Iraq? It was one of the most dramatic moments in any presidential speech that I can recall seeing. Al-Suhail’s emotion was heartfelt and genuine, and it appears to represent the feelings of most Iraqis, who after all these years can finally enjoy the taste of freedom.