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´FREEDOM ON THE MARCH´ (NEW YORK POST EDITORIAL) 01/30/05)Source: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/39436.htm NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
January 30, 2005 -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could scarcely contain his glee last week: "I believe that conditions have been created which will enable us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in relations between us," he said.

True, Sharon cautioned that these conditions "must be put to the test." Nevertheless, he added, there have been "positive developments" in the willingness of the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to openly confront terrorism.

It´s been some time since any Israeli leader — let alone Ariel Sharon — was publicly so optimistic about the chances for reaching a genuine peace. Part of that, clearly, is the fact that the arch- terrorist Yasser Arafat is no longer on the scene.

But movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front is in large measure due to an opening up of the entire Middle East — part of the positive fallout from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Today, Iraqis will take part in what is for them a unique experience: an open and honest nationwide election to select a sovereign, self- governing authority. This follows on the heels of similar balloting in the Palestinian Authority.

To be sure, there are many question marks and uncertainties surrounding today´s election. The so-called insurgents — with ties to al Qaeda — have promised deadly violence, in hopes of intimidating voters into staying home.

"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," says Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the terrorist forces in Iraq.

And no wonder — for democracy is the ultimate threat to fanatical ideologies, of the type propagated by the Osama bin Ladens and al- Zarqawis and their ilk.

Which is why President Bush, in his recent inaugural address, committed America to actively encourage the spread of democracy around the globe — and particularly in the Middle East. For, as he said, "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."

Already, the Middle East is being remade — for the better — in the wake of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

For example:

* Saddam Hussein is gone, no longer a threat to his immediate neighbors — or to anyone else.

* The terror-sponsoring Taliban has been ousted from Afghanistan and democratic elections held.

* The Jordanians and Egyptians, long content to watch cautiously from the sidelines, are becoming more actively engaged in trying to solve the region´s problems.

* Again, the Palestinians finally are moving toward the creation of a genuinely democratic government, willing to seriously negotiate with the Israelis.

Today´s election — no matter who wins — is a first, critical step down the road to true freedom.

"The advent of democracy in Iraq will serve as a powerful example to reformers throughout the entire Middle East," President Bush said Friday. What happens there today, he added, is a page out of history — "history that will change the world."

It may take a while before the Iraqi people fully grasp the intricacies of self-government.

But the fact remains that they will have taken a giant step toward permanently deciding their own fate.

Bush said as much when he told The New York Times that while he believes U.S. troops should remain to help the new Iraqi leadership, he nevertheless is prepared to withdraw them if asked to do so.

"Absolutely," he said. "This is a sovereign government. They´re on their feet."

No one — least of all the president — is so confident as to believe that today´s election marks the end of the road to full democracy in Iraq. Further challenges doubtless remain — including from the still untamed insurgency.

But a roadblock has been cleared. As President Bush said Friday: "Freedom is on the march — and the world is better for it." (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. 01/30/05)


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