The last time Iraqis went to the polls, 99 percent of all votes went into Saddam Hussein's column. Knowing the result would be rigged, Iraqis who could get away with it did not bother to vote. But that was then and this year-despite pockets of terror through the country's midsection-ended one month before the first free, multiparty elections since 1954.
"You can't imagine the thrill and happiness I felt when I held the document that state[s] that the 'Iraqi pro-democracy party' is registered and approved as a political entity that has the right to participate in the upcoming elections!" wrote Ali Fadhil of his and others' efforts to form and register a new party. "That was not a dream, it's for real."
Registration for Iraq's Jan. 30 poll closed in December with nearly 14 million voters eligible and 156 parties successfully signed up to proffer candidates. With violence against Iraqis increasing ahead of the poll, enthusiasm for what it represents is undiminished. "Iraqis are happy to be having elections and are looking forward to them because they will be useful for national unity," said Louis Sako, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk.
"It is not all death and destruction," Mr. Sako said in a November interview published by AsiaNews. "Much is positive in Iraq today," he said. "Universities are operating, schools are open, people go out onto the streets normally."
Iraqis are bullish on this: Saddam and his cronies are behind bars. Ali Hassan al-Majid, the former Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali," will face a special tribunal first. He is charged in the 1988 genocidal campaign responsible for gassing and otherwise killing 100,000 Kurds.
Saddam may not be tried until late 2005. The former dictator-not seen since a July court arraignment-spent his year in solitary confinement in a 12-foot by nine-foot air-conditioned cell at Camp Victory. Visiting human-rights authorities say he has 24-hour-a-day electricity, has medical attention twice a day, tends a small garden, reads the Koran, and eats meat and vegetables.