A glorious day but Sunnis stay in the shadows
THE Iraq election was glorious for two reasons. First, 60 per cent of the population defied Zarkawi's death threats and voted with honour. And second, it justified America's conviction that Iraqis would embrace democracy if given the chance.
But even as freedom swept tyranny aside last Sunday, the left could not summon the grace to applaud. As millions of Iraqis across the globe cast their ballots, John Kerry declared that "no one in the United States should overhype this election".
How small-minded can you get? Not only should we overhype the election, but we should mark it as the most significant moment in Iraq's history. And let me tell you why.
Three years ago, Saddam Hussein held a referendum on his leadership. On pain of death, the entire population participated. And upon arriving at polling centres, they were forced to register support for their demented president.
But last Sunday, Iraqis could either vote or stay at home. Most Sunnis decided to flex their democratic muscles and boycott the election. For those who decided to vote, however, there were over 100 candidates to choose from.
Before the war, the Iraqi parliament was dominated by Saddam's Tikrit clan. Today, there is a legislative assembly with 275 freely elected members representing all ethnic persuasions. Whatever you look at it, the pace of political change in Iraq is remarkable.
What was once a cancerous boil at the heart of the Middle East, has been transformed into a multiethnic democracy. And despite the ravings of anti-war prophets of doom, Iraq is surging forward in other ways as well. It has just been named the region's fastest growing economy by the World Trade Organisation.
Last weekend, more than one hundred Iraqis travelled from Ireland to vote in Britain. Most of them had family persecuted and liquidated by Saddam's Nazis. Some of them even spent time in Abu Ghraib when its guards were murdering hundreds per week.
For these Irish Iraqis, the election was much more than just an exercise in basic freedom. It was a victory salute to their dead relatives and to those resting in the 300 mass graves dotted around Iraq. With each vote cast, the dark shadow of slaughter finally lifted from a brutalised land.
But such heroism didn't stop Lara Marlowe from writing in the Irish Times that the process was doomed to fail if the Sunnis were excluded. Firstly, the Sunnis were not excluded. As I said above, they boycotted the election of their own free will.
Secondly, why all the concern for the Sunnis anyway? For 35 years Saddam Hussein's Sunni minority brutalised the Shia majority, the Kurds, and the Marsh Arabs. Isn't it high time a moral balance was restored between the ethnic factions in Iraq?
Few shed tears when the white minority of South Africa ceded power to the long-oppressed blacks. So why do certain people now lament the fall of those who viciously enforced ethnic and religious apartheid in Iraq for over 40 years? I suspect it is simply because they can't abide the fact that George Bush's plan for Middle East reform is actually succeeding.
It must also be remembered that not all Sunnis denied themselves a vote. A small number braved the violence around Fallujah and Ramadi in defence of their rights. And the Kurds, who voted overwhelmingly last weekend, are also predominantly Sunni.
But whether Saddam's clan decide to participate in the constitutional process is now up to them. If they follow the example of white South Africans they can play a role in Iraq's future. If, however, they continue to harbour and support terrorists they must soon be dealt with by the new Iraqi government.
Even though the Iraqis desire an American departure, most ordinary citizens also recognise that real security cannot be guaranteed without US military assistance. Without it, Iraq could return to horror and civil strife.
Preventing such an outcome will soon demand a joint Iraqi-American assault on Ramadi. The butchers and beheaders who survived Fallujah must now be tracked down and destroyed. Now that the Iraqi people have spoken, it is time to honour their wishes and cleanse the country of Zarkawi and his Baathist bandits.
In the meantime, we should let no amount of leftist sour grapes detract from Iraq's day of triumph. By turning out in such numbers, Iraqis have shown the world how highly they value their liberation from Hell. And no amount of anti-American whingeing from Robert Fisk will ever alter that fact.