Letting every Iraqi vote count

Posted: Feb 01, 2005 12:00 AM

The world is changing. After the -- all bow -- international community warned that Middle Easterners could not govern themselves, millions of Iraqis braved the threat of violence Sunday to go out to the polls and participate in their country's first free election in almost 50 years.

 Hmmmm. All the realpolitik experts and elder statesmen who called on Iraq's interim government to stall the Jan. 30 election were wrong.

 Even better: That bumbling hick, George W. Bush, was right to ignore them.

 "The terrorists tried everything in their power to derail it, and they did not succeed," crowed Hamoudi Al-Bander, an Orinda, Calif., physician who fled Iraq in 1973. A U.S. citizen, Al-Bander voted in the Iraqi election at one of five U.S. polling centers Sunday.

 His two sisters, who live in Baghdad, went to the polls as well. Suicide bombers may make them afraid to go grocery shopping, Al-Bander explained, but the election was too important to keep them at home. Al-Bander was particularly proud of the number of Iraqi women who went to the polls.

 Estimates of voter turnout -- ranging from 60 percent to 75 percent -- show that the number of Iraqis who went to the polls was comparable to U.S. turnout in November's presidential race (60.7 percent) and much higher than voter participation in many recent presidential contests.

 "Impressive, very impressive," noted Bob Stern, president of the L.A.-based Center for Governmental Studies. "To have people vote under the threat of violence is pretty impressive."

 Make that the promise of violence, with nine suicide bombers claiming some 44 lives as the polls were opened. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Iraqis at one polling station walked around a suicide bomber's fingers to exercise their right to vote.

 Not that Sen. John Kerry seemed particularly impressed in an interview on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning. Once again showing himself adept at seizing every failure and ignoring every victory, Kerry warned, "No one in the United States should try to over-hype this election."

 Asked if the world community would see the Iraq election as legitimate, Kerry replied that it had "a kind of legitimacy, I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote."

 Ever get the feeling Kerry is rooting for failure in Iraq?

 Even French President Jacques Chirac said the elections showed "the strategy of terrorist groups partly failed," while his Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was quoted by Agence France Presse as describing the elections as "a victory for the Iraqi people."

 Web sites for peacenik groups -- Moveon.org and answercoalition.org -- that were quick to pounce on the administration when things went sour in Iraq were oddly silent Monday, as of my deadline. I'll say this much: Silent is better than petulant.

 In an odd juxtaposition, the left now pooh-poohs building democracies from nations plagued with ethnic or religious strife, while President Bush, once a committed isolationist, has become the chieftain of nation-building.

 First Afghanistan, now Iraq.

 Al-Bander compares Iraq's new leadership to that of other Middle Eastern countries. Al-Bander argued that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "is grooming his son" Gamal to succeed him -- the Mubaraks deny this frequently made charge. Syrian President Bashar Assad succeeded his father. As for Jordanian King Abdullah II, "What is his legitimacy?" he asks. The Saudi royal family rules Saudi Arabia as if it is in the "14th or 15th century"; women can't vote.

 Iran, though a democracy, is ruled by Muslim theocrats. Only in Iraq do the people themselves find "an opportunity" to determine their fate, he said.

 I ask Al-Bander what he thinks of those who pronounced Iraqis as incapable of ruling themselves. "I think it is racism," he answers. "What amazes me, it is coming from liberals."

 That's what Bush hating has come to in America 2005. The Iraqi people risk their lives to vote for a new government and self-rule. And, in response, John Kerry says the election has "a kind of legitimacy," while anti-war opponents can't bring themselves to acknowledge that the elections in Iraq brought light and hope to a once-repressed people.