Just try for a minute to put aside the thought of the horrors in Iraq. And think about this: A recent poll by the International Republican Institute found 64 percent of Iraqis are “very likely” to vote in the upcoming national elections, despite the gunfire and the intimidation. There are candidates from 111 different political parties, and there will be 130,000 workers manning 5,220 polling stations.
These are astonishing numbers. About 12.5 million Iraqis are registered to vote in the election to be held on Sunday — there are 14 million eligible voters — and great efforts have been made to encourage the participation of the disaffected minority Sunni population, especially those in the fire-bombed neighborhoods of Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi. The election architects have made it possible for these Sunnis to register and vote on the same day.
And the leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has issued a fatwa commanding his followers to vote, commanding them to choose the right for democratic change. This is both splendid and inspiring. Despite the attendant violence and the efforts by vicious insurgents to upset the move toward the ballot box, the Iraqi elections are unfolding as planned. These first elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein are, as President Bush says, an important step in the global march toward freedom.
Yes, families throughout many of Iraq’s 18 provinces are being threatened when they indicate they intend to vote for representatives in the 275-member National Assembly; yes, the danger is so great that candidates’ names are being kept secret until the day of the vote; yes, there has been brutal violence and there have been stark, menacing words from the al-Qaida front man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who said he would mount “a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it.” But there are also enormously brave people such as Mishaan Jubouri, a Sunni who acknowledges in public — defying his confreres’ call for a boycott of the election — that he is running for a seat in his home district of Mosul. “I think I am alive for a purpose,” Jubouri told the Washington Post, “and I have not filled that purpose yet.”
This election is just the beginning for Iraqis. It will allow them to elect a temporary government to draft the country’s new constitution. Sunni leaders may be denouncing the vote, but they do want to be included in the crafting of the new constitution. And so they should be very much part of that process. The Sunnis were the dominant political force in Iran until Saddam was ousted, and they make up about 20 percent of the population. Getting them on board means creating some stability in Iraq and preventing the horrible specter of civil war. It is the only way for democracy in Iraq to take hold, and to open the door for U.S. troops to start coming home.Top