Only the most naive optimist would believe Sunday’s historic elections in Iraq mark the end of bloodshed and hardship in that war-torn land. But only the most stone-hearted pessimist would disdain the spectacle of millions of Iraqis lining up to vote and dancing in the streets as insignificant.
Iraq indeed passed a crucial test on Sunday, one that skeptics had predicted would be marred by widespread violence, poor turnout by terrified citizens and boycotts by several groups that had feared election results would marginalize their influence. The elections went ahead despite calls for delays by some in Iraq, in this country and in the international community for fear of a bloodbath.
There was indeed a rash of violence that left dozens of people dead, but as the New York Times’ Dexter Filkins reported from Iraq’s capital city late in the day, “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.”
It will take up to 10 days to tally the results, but a critically important victory can already be declared — by the 8 million or so Iraqis who courageously went to the polls, by American, coalition and Iraqi forces that have fought hard to stabilize and secure the country against a murderous insurgency, by President George W. Bush for his resolve in staying the course in Iraq, and by the majority of U.S. voters who stuck by the president despite deepening doubts about the war’s conduct and cost, as well as the flawed intelligence that helped justify the invasion.
Much hard work yet lies ahead for the United States and its allies, as well as by the Iraqi people and their newly elected representatives. The insurgency will not go away; indeed, it may grow even more deadly in response to this humiliating slap in the face. But a big worry by Americans, that this ideal of self-governance might not have taken root in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, was laid to rest as of Sunday.
Iraqis’ courage and sacrifices, as well as those of our own men and women in uniform, should remind us all that the price of freedom can be high, but it is worth fighting for.
Although this fight isn’t yet over, a pivotal battle has been won. And it is safe to say that ultimate victory in Iraq not only will bring freedom and security to one nation’s people, but also show the way to a better, more prosperous and more secure life for millions more people across the Mideast.
To those in harm’s way, and especially those who have paid the ultimate price, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.