The events of Election Day in Iraq were truly breathtaking. Despite repeated attacks around the country by the enemy that killed some 35 people to frighten Iraqis away from the polls, their perseverance showed. Miguel Marquez of ABC News summed it up this way: “Iraqis are really tough.” Walid Abid, a 40-year-old father of two, spoke as mortars landed several hundreds yards away from his polling station. “I am not scared and I am not going to stay put at home. Until when? We need to change things. If I stay home and not come to vote, it will get worse.” Another voter, Maliq Bedawi, said, “Iraqi people are not afraid of bombs any more. We took our children with us.”
The BBC also acknowledged the resolve of the Iraqi people: “Despite the violence, turnout appears to be strong in several cities, with healthy queues at polling stations.” According to Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, only two of 50,000 polling stations had to be closed briefly for security reasons. The Associated Press offered their own assessment: “Nobody is predicting a return to the violence seen in 2006 and 2007. Iraqis are exhausted from the violence, and government security forces have their weaknesses but are vastly improved.”
Voters were taking advantage of a right many have died for in their country. One voter, Abu Adel said, “It is a duty to participate in the democratic process.” According to The New York Times “cars clogged the streets” in Kirkuk, a divided city and region. There is intense “political struggle over control of the province,” the Times reports. Their reporting also mentioned the city of Fallujah where “most voters said they had cast their ballots for the coalition led by Ayad Allawi, who has emerged as a standard bearer for many Sunnis.” The AP reported that “in the city of Nasiriyah, in the Shiite south, crowds of people filled the streets … Sunnis and Shiites seemed united in one way Sunday—defiance in the face of violence.”
The thrust of these elections bore two significant themes in mind for many people around the world; this vote was a key test for a democracy in progress and for the Americans as U.S. Soldiers continue the withdrawal. Time Magazine asked the question; “Can It Pull a Country Together?” Iraqi President Jalal Talabani put it this way: “This is a very important election. It will decide the future of the democratic process in Iraq. It will be developed or stopped.” This is also a referendum on the leadership of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has continuously emphasized the improvements in security under his watch. He has much at stake. Then there’s the message on Saturday from the Anti-American Shi’ite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, in Iran urging Iraqis to participate in the elections. What are his motives? According to some officials, this was his first public appearance in two years.
No one is under any elusions that our involvement is over. Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser during the Bush administration on Iraq, referenced this in an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post: “As I watch this new election, recalling the euphoria of those early Iraqi votes and marveling at the resilience of the Iraqi people in the years since, I am also sobered by the knowledge that the hardest work is yet to come.” The Obama administration knows that as well. “Iraqis will continue to want our help in resolving their outstanding problems,” a senior aide said. At the White House, President Obama hailed the vote as an “important milestone” and called it “a tribute to all who have served and sacrificed in Iraq over the last seven years, including many who have given their lives.”
Voters headed home waving their purple-tinted index fingers, which are dipped in ink to identify people who already cast ballots. Some even expressed their frustrations. One resident, Qaid Sharaa said, “It’s true we have freedom but what do we have beyond it?”
The hard work in Iraq continues. When it is formed, the new government will have to roll up his sleeves and do the work of the people. Bread and butter issues were on the minds of Iraqis as unemployment had become one of the number one concerns in this election.
However, let there be no doubt. The Iraqis were proud of their voice in the midst of attacks by the insurgency. How may of you would have left your home to go out and vote under the realization that you may not make it back alive? I believe Reuters news agency summed it up best: “Few elections in the Middle East have been as competitive as this one.” Think about that for a moment. The Middle East. Free elections. Competitive. This is another amazing moment for a new Iraq.
Scott Sadler has served in senior level positions in the Federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.