Iraqis brave threats and vote

The civic responsibility displayed Sunday was an inspiring start for an Iraqi republic.

Elections in Iraq on Sunday were a success. Despite threats of violence, voter turnout was strong, exceeding many expectations. Last week, interim President Ghazi al-Yawar said he thought the voter turnout would not reach a majority of eligible voters, though he later revised this estimate upward.

While neither a victor nor final voter numbers will be available for some time, it seems clear that well more than a majority of Iraqis voted. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq estimated 72 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, though this was a “very rough, word-of-mouth” estimate. Fox News estimated voter turnout at approximately 60 million. Whatever the final number is, it will be impressive. Iraqis stood in line and endured rigorous security. They ignored threats to their safety and, in some cases, actual violence, to vote.

This is not to say there were no downsides to Sunday’s elections. Attacks claimed at least 35 innocent lives. Given casualties in the recent weeks, this total seems lower than feared, given the importance of the elections. But that does not likely offer much consolation to the friends and families of the dead.

Still, the Iraqi military kept the polling places as secure as it could. This was its first real test. U.S. forces played a lesser role Sunday than normal, as authorities wanted to avoid armed U.S. troops hovering over Iraqi voters.

The one lasting detractor is the lack of Sunni Muslim participation. Polls were empty most of the day in the so-called Sunni Triangle and polls did not even open in Azamiyah, a Baghdad, Iraq, Sunni neighborhood. Sunnis held most of the power under Saddam Hussein, they make up approximately 20 percent of the population and fear being cut out of the political process.

While their fears are understandable, their current “take our ball and go home” approach is disconcerting. Sunni officials have said they wish to participate in government after the election. Hopefully, this will become a reality, as the legitimacy of the new government will be precarious without their presence.

Iraqis still have their work cut out for them: After the results are determined, the winners must still negotiate a choice for prime minister and other government posts as well as draft a constitution, among other tasks. For now, though, they can congratulate themselves on a brave job well done.