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The heroes of Iraq (TELEGRAPH UK EDITORIAL) 01/30/05)Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/01/30/dl3001.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/01/30/ixnewstop.html DAILY TELEGRAPH DAILY TELEGRAPH Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Today, when the Iraqi people go to the polls, they will be choosing not only between the parties who are competing for 275 seats in the Transitional National Assembly. The newly-enfranchised voters – many of whom are too young to remember free elections, which were last held in Iraq half a century ago – are also choosing between civil war and civil order.

It would be foolish to pretend that the liberation of Iraq has gone to plan. This newspaper, no less than the intelligence services of every Western nation, believed that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of WMD. If he did, they have not been unearthed, and probably never will be. It is clear, too, that the intelligence Tony Blair received was much more equivocal than he claimed it was. In the Bush Administration, meanwhile, the handling of expectations was disastrous. The claims by Pentagon officials that the liberation would be a "cakewalk" and by Vice President Cheney that "we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators" ring hollow today – as do the arguments of US neo-conservative intellectuals that Jeffersonian democracy could be imported to Iraq in one fell swoop after decades of murderous tyranny.

That said, the cynicism that these elections have inspired in some quarters is deplorable. On Friday, The Independent published a polemic by an Iraqi woman living in Britain, who said that she was boycotting the elections, that "women who do vote will be voting for an enslaved future" under Islamic extremists, and that "the subjection of women was never a goal of the Ba´ath party". The last claim, of course, is true in the strict sense that the Ba´ath objective was the subjection of everyone, irrespective of gender. An article in last Wednesday´s Guardian invited the reader to feel sympathy for the Sunnis who "were always the natural-born leaders of the community" and "tended to look with a mixture of anxiety and scorn at the poor Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north". There are few spectacles more grotesque than the Left-wing press siding with a toppled ruling caste that used to treat Iraq as a tribal fiefdom, against the majority of citizens, which it viciously subjugated.

A clue to what underpins this spirit of resentment and nitpicking has been provided by the BBC´s coverage of the Iraqi elections, which has given much greater prominence to the inevitable imperfections in today´s polls and the likelihood of patchy turn-out than to the miraculous fact that they are happening at all. On Friday´s News at Ten, Gavin Hewitt delivered his analysis of the elections against a backdrop of Tony Blair and George W Bush. And it is sadly true that, in many parts of the media, today´s polls are seen as a test of the credibility of the President and Prime Minister, rather than an astonishing achievement in the midst of a bloody insurgency, and a historic opportunity for a people who have long suffered under the yoke of tyranny. Many in the West see these elections not as a staging-post to civil order in Iraq but as a means of piling humiliation upon the liberating forces. On one point, the Western Left and the Iraqi insurgents agree: any vote cast today is a vote for Bush and Blair.

That is, in fact, utter nonsense. Many of the thousands of candidates standing today are virulently opposed to the presence of American and British troops in Iraq, and would, if elected, argue passionately for their immediate withdrawal. But this underlines the whole point of the exercise, which is to give the Iraqis control of their destiny as soon as practically possible. If the objective of US and British policy in Iraq were, as is so often alleged, to establish a new American imperium in the Middle East, then these elections would not be happening. In fact, the nations which joined in the coalition to topple Saddam understand that democratic nations are more stable, better participants in global markets, and more assiduous partners in the maintenance of regional security.

Mr Bush is fond of quoting from The Case for Democracy by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. "To suggest, as the sceptics do," writes Sharansky, "that the majority of a people would freely choose to live in a fear society is to suggest that most of those who have tasted freedom would freely choose to return to slavery." That observation, written by someone who understands the meaning of tyranny, is unanswerable. Far from carping from the sidelines, those who have had the luxury of living in a democratic system all their lives should be applauding a newly-liberated people for their determination to face down the terrorists and assert their own peaceful influence on their nation´s future. (© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004. 01/30/05)


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