A belated message of congratulations and admiration and best wishes to the brave and long-suffering Iraqi people, on the success of their provincial elections last month. Since good news seems to be no news, here are a few facts about the election you might not have gotten:
- 14,431 candidates including 3,912 women contested 444 provincial seats. The candidates came from over 400 parties 75% of which were newly formed.
- Early voting took place a few days before for 614,000 soldiers, police, prisoners, patients and internally displaced people.
- On election day, there were international observers in every one of the 712 constituencies.
- Security was totally provided by the Iraqi Security Forces, with the Multinational Force in Iraq playing no role for the first time.
- Unlike the 2005 election, there was no boycott by any significant political movement.
- There was zero Election Day violence.
- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "State of Law Party," campaigning on security and secular nationalism, won a smashing victory claiming the most seats in 9 of 14 provinces.
- Iraq moved away from religious sectarianism toward secular nationalism. "All the parties that had the words 'Islamic' or 'Arab' in their names lost," noted Middle East expert Amir Taheri. "By contrast, all those that had the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi' gained."
Of course, for a long time many despaired of the possibility of a secular, pluralistic, peaceful democracy in the heart of the Arab/Muslim Middle East. Critics such as George Will pointed out, rightly enough, that it's not enough to run an election to create such a society. But, as Charles Krauthammer notes in the Washington Post, "in the intervening years, while the critics washed their hands of Iraq, it began developing the sinews of civil society: a vibrant free press, a plethora of parties, the habits of negotiation and coalition-building. Moreover, this realignment from enemy state to emerging democratic ally is a reflection of national opinion expressed in a democratic election."
It is a nearly miraculous tranformation, for and in which the Iraqis can take enormous credit and pride. God knows they deserve it.