The Iraqi Constitutional Referendum went off incredibly well this weekend, with less violence and more turnout than even the historic January elections. Over 10 million Iraqis went to the polls, and even Sunni regions saw strong turnout – a very positive sign for the future of Iraq. It appears that Salah-al-Din and al-Anbar provinces voted against the Constution, but the Sunni-majority province of Diyala approved it. Nineveh, the province containing the city of Mosul is still being counted, although it appears that the referendum will not be rejected by a margin of two-thirds, the number needed to throw out the Constitution. 3 provinces must reject the document by a larger than two-thirds majority for the process to start over.
The most crucial aspect of all this is the further legitimization of the political process. The Sunnis know that even if the Constitution passes this week, the December elections will give them the chance to further influence it, ensuring that the Sunnis can have the chance to speak out on issues such as federalism and oil revenues. That Great Compromise has helped allay some of the fears of Iraq’s Sunni population, and it appears as though the political process has gained the kind of legitimacy it needs.
The relative peace of the elections also shows how effective Iraqi security and police forces have become. The elections would have provided a very tempting target for mass-casualty attacks, yet the violence this weekend was light. The professionalism and skill of the Iraqi police helped save lives during the elections and kept the terrorists at bay – the level of violence was lower than it was in January.
This second historic election is yet another step towards a functioning Iraqi polity. Despite the naysayers, every measure of life in Iraq is getting better. Electrical production is up. Security is slowly but surely getting better as US and Iraqi forces go on the offense and secure towns along the Euphrates corridor. The political process has gained legitimacy and Iraqi civil society is developing rapidly. Per-capita GDP could reach $3,000 by the end of the year. If Iraq can continue to develop at this rate, Iraq could rapidly become a powerhouse in the region and an exporter of something more crucial than even oil – the idea of democratic civil society.
The disparity between the reality in Iraq and the reporting on Iraq has always been great, but just as the media continues flogging the old “quagmire” meme, in a month of nearly continuous antiterrorist operations along the heart of the Iraqi insurgency, US troops had fewer casualties than nearly any month since the fall of the Hussein regime. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the idea that Iraq is a “failure” is so abjectly contradicted by the facts. In the last month and a half US and Iraqi forces – including Iraqi forces acting solely with US air and artillery support – have raided key towns along the Euphrates smuggling corridor in al-Anbar province, capturing and killing hundreds of insurgents and disrupting material and logistical links to terrorist cells in places like Mosul and Baghdad. The political end of the stabilization of Iraq has seen great strides as Sunni leaders embraced the political process and the incredibly difficult issues of the Iraqi Constitution were met not with acrimony and violence, but with negotiation and compromise. The long task of reconstruction has also continued, helping restore key services to areas of Iraq that Saddam utterly neglected for decades.
Restoring a nation that has been battered by decades of totalitarian rule and nearly two decades of continuous warfare is never an easy task – yet both Afghanistan and Iraq have gone from tyranny to nascent democracy in the last four years. For all the consternation about how Bush’s policies in Iraq have been a failure, the results keep showing otherwise. Both countries have now had two successful democratic elections and antidemocratic forces such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Iraq continue to be defeated not only on the battlefield, but also in the hearts and minds of the populace.
The road to victory is never an easy one, and any period of democratic development always entails movement of two steps forward, one step back for some time. No doubt there will be hurdles and setbacks along the way, but those who continually argue for failure sadly and utterly fail to understand both the people of the United States and of Iraq.