Sunday, October 16, 2005

By any measure, Saturday’s vote on the Iraqi constitution must be considered a step forward: The election ( which occurred three years to the day following Saddam Hussein’s last make-believe election, in which his government announced that he had won 100 percent of the vote) constitutes yet another move away from the murderous tyranny of Saddam and toward a democratic future in which Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds can exercise representative self-government.

In the runup to Saturday’s vote, insurgents continued trying to terrorize Iraqis out of voting. A spokesman for the U.S. military said that there were 13 recorded attacks aimed at election targets, all of them unsuccessful, adding that in the city of Hilla, Iraqi forces stopped women from Saudi Arabia and Jordan who were wearing explosive vests. The result according to the Associated Press was that Saturday “turned out to be the most peaceful in months” in Iraq. Even so, there were at least five Iraqi soldiers who were killed by terrorist bombs on Saturday.

Iraqi voter turnout increased from the 58 percent who cast a ballot in the Jan. 30 elections for national and provincial parliaments to between 60 and 63 percent on Saturday. Much of the increase was due to turnout from Iraqi Sunnis, which was stunningly high in some locations. For example, in Fallujah, liberated by coalition-led forces from the terrorists last year, turnout was reported at more than 90 percent.

Even Iraqis who voted against the constitution acknowledged that something very positive was taking place. “Just to vote against was an amazing thing, and very important,” Hanna Edward, a Baghdad resident who opposes the constitution, told this newspaper. “It was historic, even if it was not everything I hoped for.” The mainstream media in the United States took time out from the continuing barrage of negative news to report some heartwarming stories of elderly Iraqis being carried to the polls to vote for a constitution they said would help create a more peaceful future for their children and grandchildren.

With the vote still being tabulated, it remains to be seen whether Iraqis will approve the constitution, a massive document that was still being negotiated right up to the day of the vote. For the constitution to be defeated, two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces would have had to vote no. If the referendum is approved, the constitution will be ratified and passed into law. Elections for a permanent government would be held Dec. 15, and the new government will be in place by Dec. 31. If the referendum fails, then the Iraqi National Assembly must be dissolved and elections for a new Transitional National Assembly must occur by Dec. 15. Then the country would need to begin drafting a new constitution.

Some of the more optimistic supporters of the war posit a connection between approval of the constitution and a reduction in the level of violence and terror. Having watched the violence surge following January’s elections, we suggest a note of caution on this point. Abu Musab Zarqawi and his allies in the bin Laden terror network are incorrigibly hostile to the exercise of freedom that world is witnessing in Iraq, and more likely than not they are biding their time, waiting for the next opportunity to murder more Iraqis.

In this context, one of the more positive, thoughtful assessments of the progress we are making in training Iraqis to defend themselves came from 1st Lt. Gregg Murphy, who addressed a White House teleconference Thursday morning. While the press fixated on reports that some of the soldiers who appeared had supposedly been coached by White House aides, they ignored the more substantive news about progress being made in training Iraqi soldiers. Lt. Murphy said that, in contrast to the January election, where coalition forces did all of the security planning, it was the Iraqi soldiers who were responsible for all of the security on Saturday. Given how well things went, that is positive news indeed.

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