Iraqi Vote: A Cause for Celebration?

A Washington Times editorial this morning gushes over the success of the referendum in Iraq. The giddiness is tempered, however, by this warning: "Some of the more optimistic supporters of the war posit a connection between approval of the constitution and a reduction in the level of violence and terror. Having watched the violence surge following January's elections, we suggest a note of caution on this point."

Nonetheless, the Times editorial board is encouraged by a report from 1st Lt. Gregg Murphy, who noted in a teleconference with President Bush Thursday morning that "in contrast to the January election, where coalition forces did all of the security planning, it was the Iraqi soldiers who were responsible for all of the security on Saturday." The board writes: "Given how well things went, that is positive news indeed."

The Washington Times may be more likely than most to find cause for optimism in the news from Iraq, but many commentators and bloggers in the U.S. and Iraq suggested that Saturday's vote and the circumstances surrounding it were genuinely encouraging.

Journalist-blogger Christopher Allbritton had a different perspective on the security situation than the Times:
"Baghdad was relatively calm, despite violence in the last 19 days that killed more than 450 Iraqi civilians. Saturday's quiet could indicate that the draconian security measures that banned almost all vehicular traffic, international travel and movement between provinces were effective in curbing insurgents' attacks. Or it might mean the insurgents just decided to keep their powder dry until a more politically opportune time."

But it wasn't just the insurgents that were nowhere to be found; foreign troops were largely out of sight, too. The Iraq the Model blog notes that "the presence of Iraqi army and police units is heavier than it was in January elections and I also noticed that no multinational forces were on the streets and the only sign for their presence was the helicopters that patrolled the skies."

Iraq the Model also posts the turnout figures as reported late on Saturday. Middle East expert Juan Cole presents a breakdown of the early results, providing hypotheses for why the numbers were coming out as they were -- including some questionable results from Ninevah province.

The relatively high number of voters should give some hope to the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who wrote on Friday (in an editorial headlined, 'Hope Is the Underdog') that "an enthusiastic turnout of more than 60 percent would suggest that Iraq's democratic aspirations remain hardy despite everything that's happened, particularly if it includes significant numbers of Sunnis."

(Speaking of turnout, David Adesnik of Oxblog takes note of the rather different impressions one would get from reading referendum coverage in the NYT and the Post. I fully admit I have a bias toward Post coverage, but that's because I know the Post reporters out in Iraq and I've seen how hard they work to get all sides of the story, to give readers the most accurate picture of what's going on. The Post's local staff in Baghdad, in my humble opinion, is second to none when it comes to getting the details that make the accounts so thorough. That said, I have no doubt the Times reporters in Iraq are top notch as well. So why the disconnect? Read Adesnik's post. I'm genuinely curious -- which source do you trust more, and why?)

Jesse Walker, writing in Reason magazine's Hit and Run blog, says the passage of the constitution would be "either a great victory for the democratic process or another step towards Islamic theocracy, depending on how your political team chooses to spin the results' dozens of potential consequences." His take is that whether the constitution leads the country to or away from civil war will be determined by future political participation by the Sunnis -- if they end up "giving this voting thing a try and then throwing up their hands in disgust at where it's gotten them," when the constitution passes anyway, things could get ugly.

In the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, Kevin Drum writes, "It's not clear to me that passage of the constitution is going to affect the basic security problem in Iraq all that strongly, but this is still good news. Going back to the drawing board would be unlikely to benefit anyone, least of all the Sunni minority." But Daily Kos specifically disagrees with Drum's assessment. "The BEST result would have been a Sunni rejection of the Constitution that would have taken Iraq back to the drawing board," argues Kos blogger Armando. "That result would have demonstrated to the Sunni that they indeed DO have a stake in the political process and some power to exert in that process." (Daily Kos in general is not optimistic.)

The "reality-based" blog called It Affects You is, indeed, quite realistic about this. It's not a matter of "unfounded and disingenuous optimism" vs. "unfounded and disingenuous pessimism" -- rather, it's about comparing where we are to where the Administration and supporters of the war said we should be.

Mirza Aman, a columnist for the Bahrain Tribune, seems quite satisfied with how things have progressed. She is uplifted that "millions of Iraqis went to vote, despite those criminal and racist threats. Thousands of them were seen holding Iraqi flags and banners and were chanting 'Yes, Yes, to democracy. No, No, to terrorism. Yes, Yes, to civilisation. No, No to barbarism. Yes, Yes to dialogue. No, No to violence.' Some went to say 'Yes' and some went to say 'No' but all agreed that voting 'is a national and religious duty,' as one young Sunni woman told Al Iraqiya Television station. Some went to the polling stations wearing their shrouds, meaning that they are ready to die for the sake of making Iraq free and democratic."

October 15, 2001 was a historic day, Aman contends, and regardless of one's opinion of the invasion of Iraq, it would be hard to argue that point. "It was a day in which the Iraqis undermined Al Qaeda, its allies and all those who hate Iraq and the Iraqis," Aman writes. "Iraq belongs to all Iraqis and they, and only they, not Zarqawis, Iranians, Americans, Britons or anyone else, have the right to decide how new Iraq should be and how it should be ruled and run."

Debaters -- are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Iraq? Discuss in the comments section below.

By Emily Messner |  October 17, 2005; 11:15 AM ET  | Category:  Looking Ahead
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If you really think about it There is very little reason to be optimistic about the approval of the Iraqi Constitution.

On the contrary, I believe that this result will inflame the Sunni insurgency. Here is why:

Posted by: Carlos E Casuso | October 17, 2005 01:08 PM

If you really think about it There is very little reason to be optimistic about the approval of the Iraqi Constitution.

On the contrary, I believe that this result will inflame the Sunni insurgency. Here is why:
The Sunnis voted in mass hoping to defeat the document. They needed but a majority in three provinces. The referendom was conducted ny a primarily Shia government who strongly supported the yes vote. They suspect the American strong arm tactics would guarantee the succes of the document. Despite their participation in Sunni majority providences, the yes vote prevails.
Undoubtedly, they will cry foul and feel alienated anf frustrated in the process. They will flock to the insurgency.

On the other hand, had they participated in the referendum and defeated the unfair constitution, a great celebration of the democratic process would have taken place. The Sunni's would have had a great lesson in democracy. They woul not feel as powerless as they do today.

Frankly, was there any doubt about the results? Did any one ever really think that the administration would allow the constitution to be defeated?
How do you think the folks in Ramadi,
Falluja and Tikrit feel about the process today?

Posted by: Carlos E Casuso | October 17, 2005 01:22 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with Carlos. I think a democraticly defeated constitution would have leant more legitimacy to the process in the eyes of the Iraqis, both those in the majority and the minority. A compromise and ratification would eventually have been achieved anyway, and the system would have seemed legit. Now, to the Sunnis, this is just one more dirty election, and the process will be no more respected than it has been in the past.

Posted by: Sonny | October 17, 2005 02:44 PM

Obviously if nothing can ever be good news to your anti Bush religion about Iraq, we were not expecting this great leap forward to be so.

Posted by: Guillaume Ethier | October 17, 2005 03:38 PM

Obviously if nothing can ever be good news for Iraq to your anti Bush religious eyes, we were not expecting this great leap forward to be so.

Posted by: Guillaume Ethier | October 17, 2005 03:39 PM

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