The New York Times is not widely known as a cheerleader for the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. It’s unlikely to be a whitewash when the paper reports, as it did this weekend, that the views of tire repairman and Iraqi voter Salim Mohammed Ali are representative: “Who do I blame [for shortages of electricity, water, and gasoline]? The Iraqi government… I think the Americans should stay here until our security forces are able to do the jobs themselves. We Iraqis have our own government now, and we can invite the Americans to stay.”
“The Iraqi focus on its own democracy, and the new view of the United States, surfaced in dozens of interviews with Iraqis since last Sunday’s election,” reports the Times, noting that “by many accounts, the elections last week altered Iraqis’ relationship with the United States more than any single event since the invasion.”
And why shouldn’t it? Ensuring that the elections went forward represented a crucial act of good faith on the part of the U.S. As Paul Mirengoff put it on Iraq’s election day:
The process by which we succeed in Iraq (if we do) can be thought of as a series of events by which one party keeps faith with the others. First, we kept faith with the people of Iraq by remaining in force to rebuild the country after we toppled Saddam and carried out our search for WMD. Then, the Shiite majority kept faith by rejecting the radical elements when they rose up against the occupation. We then kept faith with the Shiites by scheduling elections and seeing them through as scheduled. And today, the Iraqi people kept faith by turning out and voting.
Mirengoff went on to note that the next step in faith-keeping would be for the Shiites to develop a constitution that respects Sunni Arab interests. The Shiites seem to be doing even better than that: Adel Abdel-Mehdi, the current finance minister and a leading candidate to be the next prime minister — he’s a powerful figure in the coalition, likely to dominate the National Assembly, endorsed by Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani — has said in an interview that his faction is “really willing to offer the maximum,” short of demanding a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, to Sunni Arab political groups, including bringing them into the process of crafting the constitution. The political calculation is simple: The constitution cannot be ratified if it is rejected by two-thirds or more voters in three provinces, and Sunni Arab leaders may thus be able to scuttle a constitution they don’t like. Sistani, for his part, according to a profile in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, has been spending a lot of time studying constitutions, including the American, French, and German constitutions and the unwritten constitution of Britain, in an effort to get it right.
The terrorist insurgency has not gone away, but the fiction that the insurgents represent Iraqis as a whole has been erased by the success of the elections. Indeed, last week in the mixed Sunni and Shiite town of al-Mudhariya, just south of Baghdad, terrorists came to make good on pre-election threats that there would be blood if the townspeople voted in the election, which they did. The townspeople fought back, killing five terrorists, wounding another eight, and burning the terrorists’ car. (Three non-terrorists were wounded.)
One election does not a democracy make. But it has become ever more clear in the past two weeks that the election in Iraq was a real turning point, and that there is every reason for optimism about the continuing process of democratization.