As Iraqi author and Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami likes to point out, there are no democracies in the Arab world, except Iraq. It's an important point in reviewing March 7 parliamentary elections-Iraq's third nationwide elections since the 2003 U.S. invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. Despite violence and voting that to outsiders appeared confusing, the elections by the region's measure were a success.
Undeterred by bombings and attacks leading up to the elections, 62 percent of eligible Iraqis turned out to vote-a process that extended not only to all provinces of the country but to Iraqis living overseas, and including those who are refugees in nearby countries. While voting was down in Baghdad, where scattered bombings killed over 30, voting was remarkably up in other areas: In Anbar Province, where some of the worst fighting of the war has taken place, 61 percent voted compared to a turnout of just 2 percent there in 2005. In Nineveh Province, where targeted attacks killed approximately 20 Christians in the weeks preceding the elections, turnout was 67 percent.
Neither leading Shiite candidate-incumbent Nouri al-Maliki nor former prime minister Ayad Allawi-won a majority, and each was jockeying in the days after the election to be the first to form a coalition government. Maliki is likely to draw strong support among Kurdish and minority parties, while Allawi has the support of some Sunni groups.
Even identity politics, which has determined electoral outcomes over national issues (as in Western democracies), shows signs of fragmenting as Kurdish and Shiite blocs may split to rally around separate leadership for the first time. Also, voters around the country expressed worry over Iran's increasing role in the parties of majority Shiites. Violence and terrorism aren't over for Iraqis, but voters are getting used to the idea of representative government. "They want and need a good leader in Iraq," said a pastor in Basra, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, "because they have tasted and know the taste of safety."