Jeremiahs Confounded

The Times leader today is bullish on the prospects for Iraqi democracy following the constitutional referendum:

The vote on Iraq’s draft constitution was a triumph on many levels. Men and women dressed in best suits and neatly pressed veils, and accompanied by their children, defied the bombers’ warnings to stay away. There were no suicide attacks and little disruption. Six people died, fewer than the number killed on British roads over an average weekend. The figure is also less than the 40 killed in more than 100 attacks when Iraqis elected the current national parliament in January. Turnout was comfortably higher than the 61 per cent who voted in this year’s British general election.

The voting was not perfect. In an ideal world voters would not have to pass through three rings of concrete and razor wire security to reach the ballot box. Allied troops would not have to maintain a discreet but unambiguous show of strength near by. But the raised, ink-stained index finger is developing from a badge of courage and pride into a democratic habit. The prophets of doom who predicted bloody catastrophe ahead of January’s vote, political meltdown after it, and more country-wide carnage on Saturday have been proved hopelessly and wonderfully wrong. They seriously, and in some cases patronisingly, underestimated the courage and will of the Iraqi people to grasp their future.

Iraq is not out of the woods yet, but Saturday’s vote takes the country over another high and meaningful hurdle. The official result is a few days away, though the initial signs suggest the substantial “no” vote in Sunni-dominated provinces will not be enough to prevent ratification. But even if the constitution falls at this stage, all is far from lost. Iraq’s leaders will return to the drawing board and try again. Yet the political process so far has spawned developments that are deeply significant. The high Sunni turnout, even if the vast majority of its voting was “no”, was nonetheless encouraging. It shows that Sunnis are prepared to organise, engage and put themselves directly at odds with the nihilism of the insurgents. Likewise, Shia and Kurd leaders understand that they need to take the Sunnis with them. Their last-minute willingness to open a four-month window after the vote, in which Sunni objections could be included in an amended constitution, was smart politics. By attracting the support of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party, it may have won the day.

Unfortunately, there are those who, whatever this week’s result, will continue to preach pessimism. Some of them would rather see Iraq fail than have to admit that the international presence could have any positive consequence. Saturday’s vote must force these Jeremiahs to question their consciences. What else do Iraqis have to do to show they deserve our admiration and support? The call for allied troops to quit Iraq hastily is more short-sighted than it has ever been. It was their ability to lock down the areas around polling stations that helped to seal the success. There was dancing in the streets of Baghdad on Saturday night. It is time for the sceptics to change their tune.