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THE results of Iraq's first free elections are in. They're better than any realist could have expected. And, predictably, the media are grasping at every possible negative.





THE results of Iraq's first free elections are in. They're better than any realist could have expected. And, predictably, the media are grasping at every possible negative.

Let's look at things honestly.

The United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, got 48.2 percent of the vote. That's enough to please the party's wide array of Shi'a backers, but it's not enough to govern without a coalition.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqi List came in third, with 13.8 percent. This largely Shi'a party also includes Sunni Arabs and will act as a secular counterforce to the UIA's religion-tinted coalition.

Vitally, the Kurdistan Alliance took second place with a startling 25.7 percent. This not only demonstrates the power of Iraq's most pro-American element, but grants the Kurds the role of political kingmakers. Both of the major Shi'a parties will court them.

Moqtada al-Sadr, the bigoted thug who cast himself as the voice of Iraq's Shi'as? His party gets three seats out of 275. So much for Shi'a extremism.

Democracy works.

When all of the horse trading for ministerial positions is over, we'll be miffed at some of the appointments. But it's critical for Iraq's democracy to be as inclusive as possible. Given the new government's mission of drafting a constitution, a big-tent approach, encompassing everyone from theocrats to ardent secularists, offers the best hope of a peaceful future.

Dismiss the media nonsense about the Sunni Arab failure to participate invalidating the elections. The Sunni Arabs know they blew it. Their most promising politicians are maneuvering for a role in writing the new constitution. And the Shi'as and Kurds will bring key Sunni Arabs into the process. They know their society better than the pundits do.

You can also disregard the warnings that Iraq will turn into another Iran. Ain't going to happen. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's most revered figure, is well aware that Iran's theocracy has failed miserably — tarnishing the faith he loves. As a result, Sistani has set a rational course that will endure beyond his death.

The constitution may end up with more strictures than we like. But the odds are that the document will be a sensible compromise — with every party grumpy, but content. Clerics will have influence, but won't rule.

Much can still go wrong, of course. But the prophets of doom were mistaken about the war, about the insurgency's appeal, and about the enthusiasm of the Iraqis for elections. There's no reason to believe that their critiques of the election results are any wiser.

And the critics seem determined to ignore the most encouraging outcome of all: No Iraqi voting bloc handed power to fanatics or demagogues.

Arabs and Kurds alike chose coalitions, not rigid parties. Kurds put longstanding rivalries aside, while Shi'as voted for a range of interests under two umbrella organizations. And while the United Iraqi Alliance drew almost half of the votes, it may not even survive to the next election.

In short, the wheeling and dealing won't only be between parties, but within them. That means compromise, then more compromise. And once all the romance and rhetoric fades, it's compromise that lets democracy work.

Who will govern? Who will draft the new constitution? Shi'as and Kurds, of course. But both groups realize the importance of including Sunni Arabs in the process. And they will. Other minorities, such as Turkmen and Arab Christians, will also have a voice.

The Kurds will probably gain the presidency. This would be not only an act of justice and redress, but a tremendous step forward for the Middle East. At present, the region's 30 million Kurds are excluded from executive power. An Iraqi president selected from the country's 6 million Kurds would be an inspiring new beginning.

A Shi'a will become prime minister, the government's key position. Several candidates are in the running, with views ranging from the pious through the moderate and secular. (Even that hustler extraordinaire, Ahmed Chalabi, is angling for the job.) The likeliest result? A new prime minister acceptable to the clerics, but not a cleric himself — one whose loyalty is to Iraq, not to Iran.

We'll hear no end of protests and complaints (although they won't be as nasty as those directed at President Bush after our own elections). The Turks will pick endlessly at the scab of their fears of Kurdish freedom. And the insurgents, backed by Syria, won't give up — although more and more Sunni Arabs will turn away from them. Dreading democracy, the terrorists will keep sending disturbed young people to their deaths as suicide bombers.

And the Iraqis will build a democratic government.

This is only the start, of course. Much could go wrong. All of the courage and sacrifice might yet end in another classic Middle-Eastern disappointment. But there's more reason to be hopeful about Iraq today than there ever has been before.

And it isn't just Iraq: A new spirit has appeared in the heart of the Middle East, a sense that, just maybe, freedom is a possibility for hundreds of millions of Muslims.

As for all those disingenuous demands for an American "exit strategy"? We have one. It's called "Democracy."

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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-03-02 03:19 AM

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