- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2009


By any measure, the virtually violence-free elections in Iraq Saturday were a remarkable success. Democracy stood tall. Voters in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces went to the polls to select from among a total of more than 14,000 candidates for 440 seats on provincial councils, which control municipal budgets. Tight security was provided by Iraqi forces, with the American military in a secondary role, something which would have been unthinkable less than two years ago.

President Obama termed the balloting “good news” for U.S. troops and their families, and pointed to the success of the election in expressing optimism that a “substantial number of them will be home” within a year. Perhaps. But the president’s statement left out one very important fact: A large reason for the improved security situation that permits him to speak about troop withdrawals was President Bush’s troop-surge strategy that Mr. Obama denounced during his presidential campaign.

The fact that elections occurred without violence is just the latest sign of success for the U.S. military and strategic effort in Iraq. Fifty-one percent of eligible Iraqis voted. (While this percentage is lower than in prior Iraqi elections, it looks fairly good by comparison with turnout in recent U.S. elections; in November less than 50 percent of U.S. eligible voters went to the polls despite the supposed high interest in the races.) In the northern province of Ninevah, where Arab politicians were expected to wrest political control from local Kurds, turnout was estimated at 60 to 75 percent, compared with just 14 percent in elections four years ago. In Anbar province, which prior to the troop surge had been a haven for al Qaeda, turnout was “only” 40 percent. That sounds poor until you realize that in January 2005 elections, an al Qaeda-inspired boycott held turnout to just two percent.

The past four years have witnessed a veritable explosion of political parties in Iraq. More than 75 percent of the parties and individual candidates registered by Iraqi election authorities did not exist or did not participate in the 2005 elections. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the Iraqi balloting was the remarkable improvement in the security situation. Last month, 191 soldiers, civilians and police were killed in Iraq, a nation of approximately 25 million people. January was the least violent month since the March 2003 invasion led by U.S. military forces.

In all likelihood, the final outcome of the election will not be known for a number of days. But early results appear to suggest that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party has strengthened its position, while his main Shiite rivals, in particular the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, ran second or third in a number of key cities, particularly in the south. Undoubtedly one reason for Mr. Maliki’s success is the improved security situation. The election was bad news for Iran, which had hoped fellow Shiites in Iraq would coalesce in a pro-Iranian bloc.

The overthrow of the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 by the “Coalition of the Willing” made democracy in Iraq possible. Without that, Iraq would still be an oppressed land. And without the politically courageous (albeit unpopular) support of last year’s surge by Mr. Bush and politicians like John McCain, President Obama would not be able to discuss Saturday’s successful elections or the much-improved security conditions on the ground that may make it possible to responsibly draw down U.S. troop levels.

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