Iraqis Overwhelmingly Endorse Democracy And Defy Terrorism

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Iraqi Voters Send Insurgents A Message

A high turnout of Iraqis today embraced democracy in the country’s first free elections in 50 years — thus giving a defiant collective gesture to  the terrorists who repeatedly threatened to murder them if they cooperated, ran for office or dared go to the polls.

The context of this election is unprecedented in recent history — and perhaps in all of history.

For while there  have been other countries that have made dramatic shifts to democracy during the mid-to-late the 20th Century — Spain, Russia, the former Communist bloc Eastern European countries — nowhere is there a parallel to a country shifting to a democratic system amid specific terrorist threats to liquidate voters if they did…and voters defiantly adopting a completely new political system while reading about the murder of their countrymen who were cooperating with democracy. "Insurgents" hit polling places with mortars, suicide bombers and more than 40 people were killed.

In this context, no matter how the specific vote turns out and — even if the turnout wasn’t as big as the Iraqi government has claimed it is -it’s a victory for democracy.

It’s significant because this vote:

  • Is an endorsement of the concept of democracy. TV news photos showed many voters openly walking to the polls despite threats from insurgent terrorists that they could be killed if they went to the polls.
  • Moves the central issue now to one of government consolidation, maintaining order and preserving order — a task that may be as tough as holding the elections.
  • Throws down the gauntlet to Osama bin Laden’s Iraqi protege Abu Masub Al-Zarkawi who before the vote had declared ""a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it." Zarkawi, who is responsible for many of the bombings and "snuff film" beheadings of hostages, will likely deliver an answer to the vote in his inimitable style.
  • Makes one part of President George Bush’s job now easier: due to these images of happy Iraqis not just voting with their hands but their feet, bodies and lives as they braved physical threats, it’s now easier to argue that the lines in Iraq are now clearly drawn between those who cherish and seek democracy and those who repudiate it.
  • Could mean the U.S. gets what it wanted — and more. Will a new government now say: "Look, we’re democratic, thanks for your help but will you please leave" before U.S. policymakers feel the country is stabilized enough to leave?

One piece of evidence that this vote became  more than just "an election" but an event with special historical, almost spiritual, significance is a New York Times piece on the excited but rock-hard determination of the Iraqi people to vote. It notes:

But if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned a corner.

No one was claiming that the insurgency was over or that the deadly attacks would end. But the atmosphere in this usually grim capital, a city at war and an ethnic microcosm of the country, had changed, with people dressed in their finest clothes to go to the polls in what was generally a convivial mood.

And all of this was within the context of unprecedented attempts to beat the electorate into non-participatory submission via threats and violence, as Michael Ignatieff notes:

The election in Iraq is without precedent. Never, not even in the dying days of Weimar Germany, when Nazis and Communists brawled in the streets, has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence – with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to ‘observe’ from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad.

Meanwhile, in another hopeful sign, Arab TV focused on the voting taking place, versus the violence — another defeat for insurgents attempt to impact not just the voting but the way the Arab world perceives the voting and democracy:

After close to two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a bloodbath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story this morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the vote, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls.

Does this mean clear sailing for Iraqi democracy?

Hardly. There is rough political water ahead.

But the ship was successfully launched by the Iraqi people today.

(TMV thanks Barcepundit for the enhanced photo).

UPDATE: Other voices and views on the Iraqi elections. The sites linked represent MANY different points of view:

Friends of Democracy is must reading, with its collection of detailed info on the elections including great posts from Iraqi bloggers. Here is one of the most moving.

–Glenn Reynolds, as expected, has a ton of links. Our favorite segment is this one with the photos of the men who just voted.

Steve Soto at The Left Coaster has an extensive analysis that MUST be read in full. Here are a few key points:

If the news remains good from Iraq for the remainder of the next several days, this will be a victory for George W. Bush, and he should rightly take credit for it. I can disagree about whether we should be there in the first place, or whether the region would be just as secure with an isolated and contained Saddam and a stronger Afghanistan instead, but I know that our treasury would be in better shape, as would our ability to project power where it is really needed….

….With the country safely past a milestone that went better than perhaps even Washington thought possible, let’s see in the coming days how loudly the Iraqis themselves request that we leave their country. If you were going to design a scenario aimed at getting us out of the country sooner than the PNAC guys had wanted or planned, it would be exactly the scenario that Allawi and the rest of the locals find themselves in now….Curious, despite all of the dire predictions, how this turned out, isn’t it?

Steven Taylor has a MUST READ roundup and also offers his own analysis, which includes this:

This election isn’t the end, but a beginning, and it may yet go sour. As such, it is easy to get overly celebratory about the day’s events. Still: the building of a stable state, like any other endeavor is a step-by-step affair. To consider the events of January 30, 2005 anything other than a success is to be blinded by partisanship. Of course, to pretend like this is success defined is also to be similarly blinded.

Still, there seems to be more of the former than the latter. I find it dissappointing, and vexing, to note that there are those so infected by partisanship that they cannot at least acknowledge these elections are a step in the right direction.

The bottom line is: not every event in the world is part of a game between Reps and Dems where one side scores and the other side falls behind. Too many people treat the world like one football game where their team can do no wrong, and the other team must lose.

Jeff Jarvis:"Whether it’s Kerry or any of these bloggers, it would be the grownup, mature, generous, humanistic, caring — yes, dare I say, liberal — thing to do to be glad that people who lived under tyranny are now giving birth to democracy. Democracy isn’t a right-or-left thing, folks. It’s a right-and-left thing, remember?"

Barcepundit displays a photo of some Spaniards  in Madrid protesting the war as elections in Iraq are underway and writes:" Of course not all, but some people in Spain can’t fathom that, unlike what happened in Madrid on the general election on March 14, 3 days after the terrorist attacks, there’s a dignified response to Islamofascism."

Americablog:

I did not support Bush’s unilateral invasion of Iraq (but I thought the UN should have gone in there YEARS ago). But whatever you think of the war, anyone with a heart has to be inspired by seeing people flocking to the polls in Iraq, apparently at the same level as voters here in the US — and when they are risking their lives to do so. It is inspiring to see women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers that indicate they too were able to vote.

But people want to be free — whether they live in China or North Korea or Iran or Egypt. People want to be free — despite a thousand year history of sectarian hatred and religious fanaticism, Iraqis risked their lives to go to the polls. We should be happy. And God willing today may be the day they start to consider themselves Iraqis instead of Kurds or Sunni or Shiite. I almost put a question mark at the end of the headline — Democracy is Born in the Middle East? But I don’t think there’s any question.

–Centerfield’s Rick Heller:"It looks like the silent majority came out to choose their next leaders. The exception is in Sunni strongholds like Tikrit, where polling stations were empty. That’s their loss…Hopefully, this will inspire Iraqis to defend their new government, and allow American troops to withdraw without in any sense abandoning them."

Dean Esmay examines how the press has covered election day and, among other things, writes:

Iraq won. America won. The human race won…Terrorists–and please, can we now dispense with the Orwellian term "insurgent?"–were openly defied and in some cases beaten senseless by enraged voters armed with nothing but their shoes.

Countless millions walked miles to vote. In one case, a polling place had to be opened over 10 miles away from its original location at the last moment, and people by the thousands streamed on foot, some of them on crutches, just to get there. There’s an old joke about walking a mile to smoke a camel. Well, these people walked ten miles on crutches just to smoke a terrorist.

How can your heart not burst with admiration?

Bull Moose:

Iraq has become something bigger than a war to topple a tyrant. That nation’s future development as a democracy could have the potential to transform a region. Potential is the key word. The outcome of this struggle is by no means certain. And it is incumbent on the new Secretary of State to make a concerted effort to enlist allies in this cause. America can’t shoulder this burden virtually alone. This will be her first critical test.

Our European friends have a decision to make. As the old union song goes, "which side are you

Oliver Willis:

You know, I really wish Iraq were having an honest, safe, real election. But that isn’t happening, and that’s a shame. Even if you were and are opposed to this war, as I am, you would wish the Bush people would do things right just for the simple reason that it would help our standing in the world. But they can’ even do that.

Instead, we get a made for the media moment, then the cameras will go away and it will be 9/10 all over again, ripe for the next Bin Laden and ready for another Republican president idling his time away on vacation.

Wizbang’s Kevin Aylward has this comment on Willis’ analysis.

Andrew Quinn blasts Democratic bloggers who are criticizing the vote:"I don’t care. I’m ashamed to be a former Democrat. Excuse my language, but can’t these negative windbags shut the hell up for 24 hours and realize what is taking place here?! No, it isn’t the end-all, be-all of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But it sure is something."

–Oxblog’s Josh Chafetz:"I hope this truly signals the turning of a corner in Iraq, but only time will tell."
Michelle Malkin contends one segment of Blogtopia isn’t writing much on the Iraqi elections..
Ezra Klein:"Americans, for our part, will spend the morning watching CNN say the same thing a thousand ways. We’ll exult in the mystical power of voting, but next week, it’ll be back to the news ticker’s impersonal body counts. So elections? Count me in, I think they’re great. But with the rebellious, terrified minority that’s driving the insurgency boycotting the polls, let’s not pretend that the Ballot Fairy will sprinkle constitution dust on this razed country and out of the ashes will emerge a stable, pluralistic democracy. Iraq’s task is monumental, and its solutions anything but telegenic. In fact, odds are either our military nor cable bureaus will be playing a big role in them… "
Citizen Smash has a wonderful photo essay on freedom and the Iraqi elections. DON’T MISS IT.

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