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A glorious day in Iraq, where democracy gets a foothold



Published: Mon, January 31, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



President Bush was justifiably proud of his success Sunday in Iraq, where despite scattered violence and unfortunate deaths, the people spoke -- and they spoke in numbers far greater than even optimists had predicted.

Indeed, in some districts of the country, it appears they voted in percentages that exceeded the U.S. vote for president in November.

That is a remarkable testament to the desire of people to be heard.

But the end of the voting Sunday was only the beginning of a free Iraq, and it is going to take a lot of work, a strong commitment to democracy, not only by Iraqis but by the rest of the free world, and more than a little good fortune to create what would be the first functioning Arab democracy.

The enthusiasm shown for the vote by most Iraqis -- the Sunni minority largely boycotted the election -- puts President Bush in a strong position to demand more support for the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Congratulations

In his brief address Sunday congratulating Iraqis on their demonstration of democracy, he acknowledged that the European Union and the United Nations gave important assistance in the election process.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will by leaving Thursday on an eight-day, nine-country trip that will take her to the major capitals of Europe. In late February, President Bush will lead a mission to Europe, the first international trip of his second term.

Both Rice and the president will be in a much stronger position to suggest -- with a minimum of gloating -- that the United States saw a potential in Iraq that most of its European neighbors didn't -- a potential to replace a dictatorship with a democracy.

But that potential is not likely to be realized without strong international support.

Two-pronged attack

While Iraq's new elected officials are organizing government structures and writing a constitution, coalition forces will continue to provide security. But all of Europe must now recognize its responsibility to help train Iraqi security forces so that foreign troops can be leave Iraq as quickly as possible.

Democracies can be born under occupation -- as history showed following World War II -- but they must be free to blossom on their own.

The situation on the ground in Iraq is much more complicated today than that in German or Japan in 1946. Insurgents such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi know only one style of politics -- the politics of intimidation, terrorism and murder. Deprived of car bombs by a ban on vehicular traffic on election day, al-Zarqawi sent bombers into the street with bombs strapped to their bodies.

But while there were nine bombers, there were millions of voters. And those voters, who knew they were taking their lives in their hands by going to the polls, sent a strong message to the insurgency.

President Bush must now marshal international support for the job of rebuilding Iraq. More progress must be made on rebuilding the infrastructure (insurgencies do not flourish where electricity hums and water flows). And the president must sent a clear message that the United States is as eager to get its troops home as Iraqis are eager to run their own free nation.




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