The road to democracy and to a normalized society in Iraq, and throughout the Middle East, will be a long one. But for now, let’s just celebrate the stunning success of today’s Iraqi election. Turnout is being estimated at around 72 percent of eligible voters. If this is anywhere near correct, it’s an astonishing number, far exceeding the turnout of eligible voters in any recent American Presidential election.
This Reuters account, hot off the press (so to speak), conveys the joyousness of the event:
Some came on crutches, others walked for miles then struggled to read the ballot, but across Iraq, millions turned out to vote Sunday, defying insurgents who threatened a bloodbath.
Suicide bombs and mortars killed at least 27 people, but voters still came out in force for the first multi-party poll in 50 years. In some places they cheered with joy at their first chance to cast a free vote, in others they shared chocolates.
Even in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a steady stream of people turned out, confounding expectations. Lines of veiled women clutching their papers waited to vote.
“We want to be like other Iraqis, we don’t want to always be in opposition,” said Ahmed Jassim, smiling after he voted.
In Baquba, a rebellious city northeast of Baghdad, spirited crowds clapped and cheered at one voting station. In Mosul, scene of some of the worst insurgent attacks in recent months, U.S. and local officials said turnout was surprisingly high.
One of the first to vote was President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni Muslim Arab with a large tribal following, who cast his ballot inside Baghdad’s fortress-like Green Zone.
“Thanks be to God,” he told reporters, emerging from the booth with his right index finger stained with bright blue ink to show he had voted. “I hope everyone will go out and vote.”
Even in the so-called “triangle of death,” a hotbed of Sunni insurgency south of Baghdad, turnout was solid, officials said.
In mainly Shi’ite Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, hundreds of voters queued patiently at polling centers. “I am not afraid,” said Samir Khalil Ibrahim. “This is like a festival for all Iraqis.”
Samir Hassan, 32, who lost his leg in a car bomb blast in October, was determined to vote. “I would have crawled here if I had to. I don’t want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace,” he said, leaning on his metal crutches, determination in his reddened eyes.
There was scattered violence today, but that was barely a footnote. The terrorists, relying on the power of fear, had intended to destroy the democratic process. They didn’t make a dent. President Bush, conversely, bet his legacy on the power of freedom. While, as everyone keeps saying, there is a long road ahead, right now that’s looking like a pretty good bet.
In the photo below, an Iraqi mother lets her daughter put her ballot into the box: