It must be a mirage, like so many other fleeting signs of hope over the chaotic years in Iraq. And yet it betrays at least a couple of the characteristic traits of a lumbering democracy: a free election (at least by Iraqi standards) and a surprising outcome. A party out of power seems to have received more votes than the ruling one. How rare in that part of the world, where despotism is the rule and democracy a carefully cultivated exception. Like a garden in a desert.But there it is. Undeniably. Even in Iraq. The secularist ticket headed by a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has garnered a couple of seats more (91 to 89 at last report) than Nouri al-Maliki's ruling Shi'ite coalition. Even if neither party alone polled a majority of Iraq's many-splintered electorate.
That the election was relatively peaceful was itself a triumph for democracy. "Only" 42 people were killed and 65 wounded in twin bombings north of Baghdad as officials prepared to announce the election results. Peace is a highly relative term in that strife-torn nation, but today's Iraq is an oasis of tranquility compared to the one that was on the verge of civil war only a few years ago. How things have changed, and -- keep your fingers crossed -- much for the better.
Before the Surge, Iraq's future was so bleak that at least one U.S. senator proposed to partition it, like Gaul, into three parts. It was quite a fashionable idea at the time among our foreign-policy elite, and Joe Biden echoed it. He has since gone on to become vice-president of the United States, which gives him a much more impressive sounding board for his more embarrassing comments. He's still got a million of 'em.
In Iraq, a party headed by Shi'ite -- Ayad Allawi's -- drew Sunni voters in overwhelming numbers. Which was a victory for tolerance in itself. While the other major bloc, Prime Minister Maliki's Shi'ite-based coalition, preached reconciliation, at least formally. Whoever turns out to be the next prime minister of Iraq, that each had to appeal to the whole, varied country is a welcome augury for its united future.