BAGHDAD, IRAQ (Talon News) — The jubilant mayor of this beleaguered city called for the construction of a monument to George W. Bush. The Democratic Party’s standard-bearer in the 2004 presidential election questioned the legitimacy of Sunday’s elections here. From the unbridled optimism of the president of the United States to the cynicism of his political opponents, voices were heard around the world on Monday as leaders and average citizens alike registered their opinions of Sunday’s elections in Iraq.
In a televised statement from the White House, President Bush called the elections “a resounding success” and added that the world “is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East.”
After months of terrorist attacks, hostage beheadings, and negative media reports from this war-torn nation, the president cited the elections as a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
“In great numbers, and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy,” Bush said. “By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins, and they have demonstrated the kind of courage that is always the foundation of self-government.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair pondered what had brought Iraq to the point of a freely elected government.
“It may have been the force of arms that removed Saddam and created the circumstances in which Iraqis could vote, but it was the force of freedom that was felt throughout Iraq today,” Blair said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also expressed optimism about the prospects for lasting democracy in Iraq.
“They know they’re voting for the future of their country,” Annan said of the Iraqi voters who braved the threat of violence to participate in the election. “They’re voting for the day when they’re going to take their destiny in hand.”
Rafik Khoury, political analyst for Lebanon’s al-Anwar newspaper pointed to the hypocrisy of opinions coming out of the Middle East.
“The irony is the Arab regimes, who criticize the gaps in the elections and demand they be honest and transparent, leading to full democracy for all Iraqis, are themselves banning such elections for their own peoples,” Khoury said Monday.
In the U.S. Congress, opinions predictably fell along partisan lines, with a few notable exceptions. Nebraska’s two U.S. senators expressed starkly different reactions to the election.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who frequently votes with the president, was upbeat about Sunday’s election in Iraq.
“If the results hold up as they appear now, this is an arrow through the heart of insurgency, the first step toward democracy and bringing our troops home,” Nelson said.
But Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) who has said he is weighing a 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination, sounded a much more negative tone.
“American troops are going to continue to die and be maimed,” said Hagel, himself a Purple Heart recipient from wounds sustained in Vietnam. “A lot of other people are going to be killed, and we are going to put billions and billions more dollars into Iraq, so that doesn’t change.”
Meanwhile, the Democrat’s 2004 presidential nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, questioned the legitimacy of the Iraqi vote and downplayed the importance of the election by pointing to those who did not participate.
“It is hard to say that something is legitimate when whole portions of the country can’t vote and don’t vote,” Kerry said.
In contrast, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called the election “a new dawn for democracy in Iraq.”
“The terrorist killers made a last ditch, violent effort to derail the democratic process in Iraq because they know that it spells the beginning of the end for them,” Lieberman said. “But they failed, and the millions of Iraqis who bravely cast their votes today can claim a crucial victory for themselves and for their dreams of a new Iraq.”
Perhaps the most poignant statement of the day came from Fathiya Mohammed, an elderly woman who voted in the small town of Askan, south of Baghdad.
“This is democracy,” she said. “This is the first day I feel freedom.”