"It Was Just The Play Of Children That We Heard.”


This is a stunning, even beautiful, quote from a random voter in Iraq's very Iraqi election today. It says a lot about the stoicism of the people of Iraq that after a hundred bomb blasts and thirty-eight dead, they still made it to the polls to cast their vote. Can you imagine Americans having that kind of courage in turning out to vote?

The fact that this happened at all is a wondrous thing and the people we need to thank for it first are the servicemembers of the US military whose skills, flexibility and sacrifice made this possible. The second are the Iraqi people themselves whose mere endurance through unfathomable trauma and violence and war is miraculous. So many of them have died, of course, literally countless of them. But those who have barely survived to be bribed and flattered in this strange form of democracy have managed to pull off an election that seems a lot more credible than the recent one in Afghanistan. The Obama administration deserves some credit as well.

But we have been here before. The mere fact of an election does not change the underlying, dangerous dynamics that can and, in my judgment, probably will tip the country back into its normal condition of civil war or dictatorship. Petraeus on Fareed's show today:

“All progress that has been made to date all of the legislation that’s been passed and so forth, has all required cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic coalitions, and I think that actually will continue to be the case. Because when you do the math, there’s no way that a prime minister will be elected without a cross-sectarian, and indeed cross-ethnic, coalition developing to elect that individual and the other key members that will be part of the package.”

I hope he's right. But many of the really tough decisions were postponed till after these elections, and we simply do not have solid evidence that the surge worked in terms of its core criteria: creating a non-sectarian politics and a functioning non-sectarian government. Previous elections intensified sectarian violence; many Sunni candidates were barred from running; internal tensions within Kurdistan are running high and critical and explosive issues between the Kurds and the Shiites are unresolved.

Stay tuned - but don't trust anyone, including Obama or Biden, claiming success or victory at this point. Success is when there are no occupying troops and a functioning multi-sectarian government. These elections tell us close to nothing about the future possibility of that. How Iraqi politicians react to the results will.

(An Iraqi election worker counts ballot papers March 7, 2010 at a polling station in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqis in 18 Iraqi provinces voted today to elect their candidates to the 325-seat parliament at about 10,000 polling centers. By Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty.)