- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

There was an interesting development in the war with Iraqi insurgents before yesterday’s successful parliamentary elections. As Paul Martin reported from Baghdad, U.S. field commanders negotiated a cease-fire with most of the main insurgent groups for several days prior to the nationwide vote. An official response from the Pentagon clarified that the meetings were with Sunni leaders and “not insurgency leaders with blood on their hands.” But an anonymous U.S. official said “that only rules out a few individuals, and even then they can send ‘cleaner’ representatives to talks with us.”

However it came about, the negotiations worked. Continuing the trend from last January’s elections, violence was light on election day, as millions of Sunnis who had previously boycotted the political process lined up to vote. Early reports told how polling stations in Fallujah, which U.S. forces liberated from Sunni insurgents last year, ran out of ballots due to the unexpectedly high turnout. Elsewhere, the voting deadline had to be extended by another hour.

As we suggested yesterday, the willingness of Sunni leaders to embrace the political process means that they have finally come to regard democracy as the future of Iraq. It also means that the Islamist insurgents, like al Qaeda thug Abu Musab Zarqawi, will find themselves increasingly isolated as more and more Sunni insurgents lay down their guns. It remains to be seen how long the peace can be held.

Convincing the Sunni population to go to the polls was also a top political priority for the United States. The Sunni boycott of the January elections allowed the Shi’ite majority to dominate the interim government with candidates espousing strong pro-Iranian sympathies. The Sunni vote counters the Shi’ite clerics and their political parties, like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Ironically, Iraq’s sectarian divisions, which have always threatened to tear the country apart, could lead to a more inclusive, secular government. Although we won’t know the makeup of the 275-member National Assembly for at least two weeks, the Sunni turnout alone augurs well for a parliament far more representative of the people than the current one.

This election was also the first that saw Iraqi forces in charge of security. With U.S. forces ready if needed, it was mostly Iraqis protecting Iraqis in one-time hotbeds of insurgent activity like Ramadi, where violence during the January elections made sure almost no one voted. Things were different in Ramadi yesterday, as Western journalists noticed the change with thousands of celebrating Iraqis going to the polls.

With so much good news and so little violence, we’re curious to see how Democrats and their allies in the media decide to play the elections. When each election is more successful than the last, the honest observer sees progress. Maybe on his return from Baghdad Sen. Joe Biden can enlighten the defeatist wing of his party on what he witnessed and why the United States cannot now abandon this fledgling democracy.

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