Scores of Iraq’s defied the Sunni boycott and death threats by insurgents to participate in their country’s first free elections in over two generations. The vote marks a significant victory for the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy as it showed that the mission there is not the hopeless quagmire the president’s critics have been trying to paint it.

The election is an even greater victory for the Iraqi people, who have shown backbone and resolve by following through with an election terrorists have tried to undermine through brutal attacks upon the Iraqi civilians.

Despite the spate of bombings and other blood-lettings by Hussein loyalists and Al Qaeda affiliated militias, the estimated level of voter turnout has exceeded a majority, with the numbers running well above 70-80% in Kurdish and Shiite areas.

In contrast to the specter of fear or apathy that was supposed to mar this occasion, international journalists have captured images of Iraqi voters literally dancing in the streets in celebration of the progress that is in the making in a land where not long ago all political authority was vested in the barrel of a gun.

Though the January 30th ballot is only one stop on the long and arduous road to a truly sovereign and stable Iraq, the national elections for the body charged with drawing up a new government are a setback for the opposition’s attempt to indefinitely stall matters in a bid to create a chaotic setting that would open the door for a Sunni-dominated Baathist revival or establish an environment where Islamic terrorist networks could train and operate freely (i.e. Afghanistan under the Taliban regime).

That people are knowingly risking their lives to take part in balloting underscores the Iraqis’ appreciation of the election’s importance.

Strong participation in the election would signify that the insurgents are waging an unpopular campaign, thus making it harder for them to operate within the country and indicating that their attempts to paralyze the citizenry through fear have failed.

Factional violence has been part of Iraqi society since the country went from colonial garrison to independence. No matter how terrible the attacks launched by Zarqawi and his allies are, they pale in comparison to the barbarity systematically practiced by the Hussein regime.

To those who were once oppressed for their faith or objection to Hussein’s rule, the consequences of a return to the dark days of Saddam are more frightening than the suicide bombings that occur in Baghdad.

Most importantly, the election marks the transition of Iraqis from being mere servants of the state to its owners, as the new government will have been selected with the consent of the people. With every movement towards true self-determination, the challenges the insurgents face become more formidable as the population steels itself in their drive for a free country.

During the liberation of Kuwait and the later American invasion to oust Hussein, Iraqi soldiers were more likely to be seen surrendering to anyone who spoke English than living up to the inflated billing given by the Ministry of Information. Their inclination to lay down their arms had nothing to do with cowardice but can be attributed with a reluctance to suffer and die for a dictator and his dreams of empire building at the expense of the average Iraqi.

Today, Iraqi civil servants take greater pride in their work knowing that their efforts are being made for the betterment of the country instead of a strongman far removed from the ills of his people.

Even in Saddam Hussein’s hometown, which has a predominantly Sunni population, there has been a flurry of political activity, though the motivation to become involved with the new government by many partisans there is largely rooted in expediting the departure of coalition forces by “making nice”.

While their intentions are hardly laudable from Washington’s viewpoint, these Saddam-oriented opponents to the American occupation seemed to have caught on to the concept of advancing an agenda through the ballot and not the bullet. In a nation where governments only changed through a force of arms, it appears that some civic lessons are finally being learned by even the most hardheaded.

”’Mike Bayham is author of Right From The Bayou: The Opinions of a Conservative Cajun, which is available at iUniverse.com.”’

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