An Iraqi man smiles as he shows his purple finger to his son moments after voting yesterday in Tissa Nissan district of east Baghdad. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Russ Goemaere.)
Let us recognize the fantastic accomplishments of the Iraqi people and government in bringing about an amazingly successful polling day yesterday. (And I certainly salute Americans like this one in making the day possible.)
The Iraqi people have suffered through a near-continuous crucible of war and murderous oppression for at least 25 years. They are not in the clear yet. But Saturday's successful referendum marks an enormous step in getting clear, even if the vote turns out to have gone against the constitution.
The reason is that the polling was the first voting in Iraq that was both free and unmarred by violence. Sure, under Saddam the people got to "vote," but the ballots were not secret and there was never an alternative candidate. They either voted in favor of Saddam under the glaring eye of the regime's minders or they suffered consequences. So in January 2003 Saddam announced a referendum on his reign and received 99.9 percent of the vote. What a surprise.As for violence, there was some in Iraq on referendum day, but not much - only about 10 percent of the number of terrorist-related incidents that the elections of Jan. 15 saw. There were gun battles in Ramadi with terrorists (that likely had nothing to do with the referendum) but Baghdad was practically violence free. ABC News reports,
A day that U.S. and Iraqi leaders feared could become bloody turned out to be the most peaceful in months. Insurgents attacked five of Baghdad's 1,200 polling stations with shootings and bombs, wounding seven voters. The only deaths reported were those of three Iraqi soldiers killed by a roadside bomb far from a polling site, and there were no major attacks reported as U.S. and Iraqi forces clamped down with major security measures around balloting sites.In fact, referendum day was much more peaceful than many of the days leading up to it. There were very stringent security measures in place today that have not been in place before, notably that vehicle traffic was prohibited and enforced, removing the chance of a vehicle-borne bomb. In some troublesome places the polling locations were kept secret until voting day, when they were announced by loudspeaker.
Iraq cannot continue to enforce such measures, of course, but they did work Saturday and proved that the Iraqi government is capable of instituting security, however temporarily, that al Qaeda cannot defeat. The vehicle prohibition was no surprise, having been announced many days ago. Despite this ample advance notice al Qaeda was unable to emplace personnel or material assets beforehand to effect attacks. It's hard to imagine what proves their impotence more than this. Sadly, though, we can probably expect a renewed round of violence in coming days.
Even so, I am convinced that referendum day is a new benchmark in the country since America and its allies invaded in 2003. It does not mark the end of troubles nor violence nor internal political difficulties among the various Iraqi demographics. But it is the beginning of the end.
There are still miles to go before we sleep, but henceforth the military side of Iraq's progress will diminish in relative importance to the political and social. The action that most affects the country will increasingly be taken by conferences and legislative assemblies, not bombs and bullets.
My prediction: the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is not yet a done deal, but its fate is sealed. Referendum day showed that AQI is the real "weak horse" in the fight. As Alexandre Dumas observed, "Nothing succeeds like success." More and more Sunnis will start to realize what someone told me years ago, that when change is inevitable, you either jump aboard the train or find yourself walking down the track kicking at rusty cans. Even though most Sunnis fear the game is rigged, they will increasingly realize it is the only game in town and they need to be dealt in.
The rate will increase with which AQI's leaders and cells are identified to Iraqi and American authorities by Iraqis, including by AQI's former sympathizers and supporters. I'll even go so far as to predict that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the future former chief of al Qaeda in Iraq, will be dead or in in Coalition hands before the end of the year (although we may not learn of it for some time afterward).
Cross-posted at DonaldSensing.com