Iraq and the fire of freedom

Posted: Feb 03, 2005 12:00 AM

The following euphoria was brought to you by President George W. Bush.

 Remember the London Daily Mirror headline -- "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?" The New York Times, as recently as three weeks ago, predicted disaster for the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections: "The coming elections -- long touted as the beginning of a new, democratic Iraq -- are looking more and more like the beginning of that worst-case scenario. It's time to talk about postponing the elections."

 Well, give The New York Times credit for consistency. Back in December, the Times showed their usual pessimism:

The Bush administration is telling Iraqis not to even think about delaying the sequence of national elections now set to begin on Jan. 30. Pushing back the electoral timetable, as requested late last month by a number of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular parties, threatens to push back the timetable for eventual American troop withdrawals, so Iraq is in effect being told to vote in January, ready or not. . . . It would be much better for Washington to stand back and encourage Iraq's wary factions to work out their own solution on the election date.

 Washington Post reporter Anthony Shadid, in responding to a question about what surprised him most on election day, said:

My biggest surprise was the way voting surged through the day in Baghdad. It's difficult to describe how insecure the capital can feel at times. . . . A lot of people in the morning held back. But then they literally looked out their windows and saw crowds in the streets. Not only crowds, either. They were festive, even jubilant -- clapping, chanting and playing soccer. It was as if a psychological barrier had been breached, and its impact seemed to snowball as the hours passed.

 The New York Times reporter in Baghdad wrote about a 22-year-old Iraqi woman, initially intimidated by the "insurgent" activity on election day:

For an instant, [she] thought it might be too dangerous to go to the polls. 'And then, hearing those explosions, it occurred to me -- the insurgents are weak, they are afraid of democracy, they are losing,' [she] said . . . 'So I got my husband, and I got my parents, and we all came out and voted together.'

 "At one station," reported the Washington Post, "a woman showered election workers with handfuls of candy. At another, a veiled, elderly woman kept repeating, 'God's blessings on you' to election workers. Across town, three Iraqi soldiers carried an elderly man in a wheelchair two blocks to a voting booth. . . . 'God willing, this election will be the nail in the coffin of the terrorists,' Abbas Salem, a real estate agent in Mosul, said after voting."

 A New York Times reporter talked to a former Iraqi Army officer under the Saddam Hussein regime. The ex-officer said in 2002, when Saddam last held an "election," he showed up at the polling place at the last minute, only to find his ballot had already been filled out for him. Today, the man said, he walked for two or three hours to get to the polling place -- that's how excited he was.

 How about this account from the Washington Times:

The last time 82-year-old Malia Ahmed stepped out of her house in the mountains that divide Iraq from Iran, her hometown of Biyara was controlled by an Islamist militia with links to al Qaeda.

That was more than two years ago.

Today, too frail to walk, she was carried by her grandson, Ali Nasreddin, to the local polling station to vote.

'She suddenly made the decision yesterday,' Mr. Nasreddin said. 'Every vote counted, she told me.'

Too tired to speak, Mrs. Ahmed limited herself to waving a finger soaked in indelible purple ink at a reporter. Then . . . her grandson hauled her onto his back to start the 20-minute walk home.

 How about the new mayor of Baghdad, who wishes to erect a monument to George W. Bush? "'We will build a statue for Bush,' said Ali Fadel. . . . 'He is the symbol of freedom. . . . We have a lot of work and we are especially grateful to the soldiers of the USA for freeing our country of tyranny.'"

 Another paper wrote about an elated eastern Baghdad Sunni engineer, who said, "'Everybody feels that he is human today and can have a free voice. No one wanted to lose his chance. I think today will show these terrorists lost their chance in this country.

  "'But I want to say one thing: I want to thank the U.S. soldiers for bringing this to Iraq,' said the ex-soldier who had been imprisoned by deposed ruler Saddam Hussein. 'Without them, we would have to vote for Saddam always.'"

 The "Fire of Freedom." What a beautiful thing. Thank you, Mr. President.