Iraq: Bravery And The Ballot

Dying for democracy is something Americans are brought up to respect -- and perhaps expect in their lifetimes. It is not, however, part of the Iraqi tradition, which makes the image of Iraqis dying for democracy so powerful today. However misleading the reason for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, however incompetent the ensuing occupation, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is opening the way to a genuine election, and the majority of Iraqis appear willing, even eager, to participate. Candidates, women as well as men, have been attacked and killed yet they continue to campaign. Polling stations have been bombed yet people continue to register to vote. However tainted the U.S. invasion of Iraq may appear, especially in Europe, it is time to recognize that by the end of January the country will have its first legitimate election in modern history.

Certainly there is much reason for caution. A society with little civil structure left and no experience in parliamentary politics doesn't have a solid foundation for democracy. The Sunnis who dominated the Shia majority and the Kurds for centuries lead a vicious war to thwart elections. And it may be that once held, elections produce a theocracy, not democracy.

Yet despite the murders and the mayhem, Iraqis say they will vote if they can. In Afghanistan, millions of people without a tradition of voting, under threat from the Taliban, surprised the world by going to the polls. The election had meaning for them. So it appears in Iraq. However they have come upon it, most Iraqis want to participate in a free election. The world should recognize and applaud their courage.

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