"Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East." -- President George W. Bush
The initial verdict from Iraq? Hours after the country's first democratic elections, President Bush has declared the day's event a "resounding success". The vast majority of reports coming out of the country seem to corroborate that analysis. As CNN's Anderson Cooper commented from Baghdad, "it's hard not to smile" when seeing the spirited and celebratory attitude of the Iraqi people on a historic day.
Election day violence left three dozen dead, but despite that and many other problems, it was a good day. There was a better than expected turnout at the polls, with more than 8 million Iraqis--at least 55% of the electorate--casting their votes. The Kurds and Shiites came out in large numbers, and even a decent number of Sunnis, many of whom had threatened to boycott the election.
The winner of the election will not be known for at least another week, but as has been stated repeatedly, the terrorist insurgency in Iraq suffered a crushing loss. Bush lauded the Iraqi people for "firmly reject[ing] the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists". British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the day's events had delivered "a blow right to the heart" of global terrorism.
This election story has garnered much more attention than the similarly successful one held in Afghanistan in 2004. After all the months of intense scrutiny and harsh criticism, President Bush can breathe a sigh of relief. Today, his resolute and steadfast approach in Iraq appears to be vindicated. I hope that this initial bit of good news does not lead policymakers to get ahead of themselves and start clamoring for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. There remains much work yet to be done, and we must not risk an undesirable outcome by getting out before the job is finished.
Iraq is taking its first infant steps toward creating something incredible--an Islamic democracy in the area heretofore labelled "Mess O' Potamia". While the task ahead is still daunting, it's a welcome change to see good news from Iraq dominate the headlines, for one day at least!