Finally an Iraqi achievement

Another report on election day in Iraq, from Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi:

For me, one of the most extraordinary moments was watching Haqqi, my long-time translator, cast his ballot. Haqqi is from Tikrit and comes from a tribe related to Saddam Hussein. Until the fall of Baghdad, he had lived all of his 26 years enjoying privileges unknown to most other Iraqi families.

The son of an ambassador, he grew up abroad and was educated in international private schools. He drives a Mercedes and speaks impeccable English. He and I argue often and passionately about events in Iraq. He criticizes everything and anything since the fall of the regime; I point out that under Saddam he couldn’t work for an American newspaper or so much as voice his opinion.

All along, as he followed me to interviews and press conferences, his attitude was dismissive and pessimistic. Then yesterday, half an hour before the polling center closed, he had a change of heart. I heard him pleading with election workers to allow him to vote out of his district. He had never bothered to pick up his registration form.

“I really want to vote,” I heard him say. “I didn’t before, but coming here today and seeing old people, handicapped and women and men vote made me feel very nationalistic. I am Iraqi. I have a right to decide the future. Please let me vote.”

The election worker smiled and handed him a ballot sheet. Afterwards he simply said, “It was great,” and quickly made a phone call to the rest of our staff encouraging them to rush over and cast a ballot.

Fassihi makes another important point:

…I have marked many milestones in Iraq since the war officially began in March 2003 — fall of the regime, killing of Saddam’s sons Uday and Qussay, formation of the Governing Council, the capture of Saddam, the handover of sovereignty to an interim government and now the creation of a national assembly. None has captured the attention and imagination of Iraqis the way yesterday’s elections did.

Iraqis viewed those events with the skepticism and suspicion they always do for things forced upon them by an outside hand — in this case the Americans…

For that reason, those events– as welcome as they were– promised more than they ultimately delivered. The election is different. It is overwhelmingly an Iraqi achievement– something tangible for Iraqis to take pride in and defend against those who would drag the country backwards.