Yesterday, Iraqis flocked to the polls to elect their first parliament since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. On a day with just a few minor attacks, as many as 10 million to 15 million Iraqis turned out to do their civic duty to determine who will steer the country’s progress for the next four years. International observers interpreted the elections through lenses of trepidation, admonishment, enthusiasm, and vitriol.
Don’t be fooled by the lead paragraph of a commentary in Britain’s Guardian. Although it begins on a positive note—”A thousand days after the American invasion, yesterday’s Iraqi election was promising. The result is not yet known, but the signs of a relatively strong turnout among Sunnis offer the best chance for an inclusive political process that Iraq has had.”—it quickly reverts back to Guardian type, urging the United States to negotiate with the insurgency and grumbling about the U.S. administration’s obliviousness to Iraqis’ plight: “It fails to see the humiliation that Iraqis feel every day at the sight of foreign troops. It ignores the anger produced by mass arrests, heavy-handed searching, night-time raids and excessive civilian deaths. It overlooks Iraqi suspicions about long-term US intentions, whether it is ‘control over our oil’ or maintaining permanent bases.”
The DailyTelegraph’s diplomatic editor cautions the United States against cutting and running: “Having invaded Iraq, the United States is now the country’s central power-broker—acting as both the cause of and the only possible solution to Iraq’s problems.” Conversely, the Sun salutes the “15 million brave voters [who] risked bomb and bullet to elect a real government” and predicts that, “If it works, as everyone now hopes, British and American troops could start pulling out next year.” A dispatch from a London Times reporter in the thick of it hopes the Iraqis get their act together: “[T]he exercise could yet be wasted unless the leaders of the country can form a working coalition government that reflects the interests of all communities.”
The English-language Middle Eastern and Asian subcontinent press is split on the Iraqi elections. A commentary in the Daily Star of Lebanon suggests the elections were as useless as teats on a bull: “The results are not out yet, but the likelihood is that they will show that Iraqis continued to vote along sectarian lines, with no real vision toward a united country.” More important, the elections don’t address the “monumental, irreconcilable rift that has developed between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds.” The editorial in Pakistan’s Nation reads like something you’d find in its American namesake: “Bush also will be doubted on his take that the US model of freedom in Iraq will inspire reformers from Damascus to Tehran. Thanks to the media, the international community can now clearly see beyond the White House spin into the reality on the ground in Iraq. Unbelievable as it would have seemed not long ago, much of Iraq now looks back on Saddam’s days of tyranny with some nostalgia, because at least the bare necessities of life like water, power and security of life were more or less provided for.” Don’t look to Pakistan’s News International for optimism, either. Its assessment isn’t all sunshine and lollipops: “[W]ith the countless billions of dollars spent on the war, and the more than 2,100 US soldiers killed, having failed to do this, the elections are not going to secure democracy there.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates ran an editorial full of enthusiasm about the elections: “This is one opportunity that has the potential to end the bloody chaos of the past couple of years and put Iraq back on the track. This vote could help the Iraqis build a new country, and a democratic state that is at peace with itself and offers equal opportunity, peace and justice to all of its people.” Saudi Arabia’s Arab News cautioned against assuming that everything will change with the elections: “No one should pretend, of course, that the violence will now end rapidly.” However, the huge turnout does indicate that the terrorists have not won:
[T]he display of determination by all Iraqis to participate in the democratic process must have made a deep impression on all but the most hardened terrorists. The fact that so many Sunnis trooped to the polling stations for the first time, having boycotted the previous two national votes, sends the clear message that the community which most of the insurgents pretend to represent wants peace, not violence. Nor are they prepared to be intimidated by the killers in their midst.