This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Veterans of Iraq – at Fort Lewis and elsewhere – can stand even taller after Sunday’s elections in that once-bloody country.
By any standard, the vote was a success. The turnout, 62 percent, far exceeded the turnout in U.S. congressional elections and equaled that of the 2008 presidential election. Iraqi candidates and political parties had campaigned fiercely – with rhetoric, not bullets and bombs. The voting by and large looked clean and honest.
Roughly 40 Iraqis were killed in election-related violence, as many as half the fatalities occurring in a single rocket attack that brought down an entire apartment building in Baghdad. But that’s a calm sunny day compared to the sectarian massacres Iraq was enduring several years ago.
The rocket attack and other explosions in Baghdad didn’t intimidate voters; they reportedly spurred more people to vote. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi security forces – not American troops – controlled the streets and appeared to thoroughly cow what remains of the once-powerful insurgent forces. Except for a few brief closures, polls remained open all day throughout the country.
Most encouraging of all was the Iraqis’ broad participation in the elections. Sunni Muslims, who’d lost their favored status under Saddam Hussein, had boycotted the last parliamentary elections; most of the insurgency’s foot soldiers had come from Sunni communities. On Sunday, the Sunnis voted enthusiastically. So did many radical Shiites whose leaders in the past had shown nothing but hostility for the new democracy.
In 2002, sham elections staged by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist dictatorship claimed an overwhelming mandate from the people. Sunday’s elections gave no one a mandate; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated party fell short of a majority and is scrambling to win enough allies to control parliament.
This is called politics. It’s a hallmark of democracy, and it appears to have taken firm root. A large majority of Iraqis now appear to regard elections as the foundation of government legitimacy. Iraq being Iraq, plenty might still go wrong, but it looks increasingly stable and intolerant of murderous fanatics.
One of the best things about the elections was the fact that U.S. forces were nowhere in sight. By buying enough time for the Iraqi government to stand on its own feet, the American military has largely worked its way out of a job.
Its mission – tragically mismanaged for three years before the Bush administration found a strategy that worked – cost the lives of far too many U.S. troops. But, knock on wood, Iraq appears to have turned the corner. The Americans who served there have reason to be proud.