While the world will have to wait a few days for final confirmation that Iraqis accepted their proposed constitution, it's not too soon to see who the victors are - the Free Iraqis and those who placed a bet the idea that democracy could advance in the Middle East. The first success was in the turn-out. An estimated 10 million Iraqis – two-thirds of those eligible - voted, an increase from the more than 8 million who voted in January's historic elections. Iraqis once again cast their ballots despite threats from the terrorists who warned them to reject democracy. The second victory was that in this vote the Sunni Arab population joined the democratic process and voted, rather than boycotting it as they did in January.
Critics of President Bush will now need to find new arguments to demonstrate the "failure" of democracy Iraq. Before the January elections they had warned that Iraqis were either not suited or not ready for democracy. They warned that by pushing for elections to take place in January the administration was going to precipitate a disaster. Iraqis proved them wrong by first voting in large numbers and then writing a constitution. Critics then pointed to the Sunni boycott and warned that the president's policies had resulted in a divided country with the Sunnis rejecting democracy and pushed into supporting the insurgency. Instead the Sunnis recognized the mistake of boycotting in January and voted in large numbers, casting their lot with the democrats in Iraq rather than the insurgents who had been claiming to represent them.
Not only did they vote, reports from Iraq seem to indicate they supported the constitution. Just days before the election, the influential Iraqi Islamic Party threw its support behind the constitution after Shiite and Kurdish leaders agreed to amendments to the constitution allowing for the option of future changes. All sides - and America's ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad - understood the importance of common ground, and their efforts will inspire the region. Initial counts coming from Iraq reportedly show that a majority of Iraqis supported the constitution in two of the four Sunni dominated provinces that opponents needed to reject the constitution to defeat it nationally. In London yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Secretary Rice said information she has received from those counting the votes in Iraq suggest that the constitution passed.
Even a rejection of the constitution, because of the Sunni turnout, would not be bad news for Iraq. While in sports winning may be almost everything, in democracy taking part is really what counts. By voting the Sunnis have tied themselves to the democratic process. A democratic referendum involves a yes or no option. Only in dictatorships like Iraq under Saddam could a referendum only yield one result. Respected Iraqi democrats, such as Nibras Kazimi, who writes on these pages, have recommended rejecting the constitution, warning it risks giving too much power to clerics. If the constitution is rejected, democracy will continue. Elections will take place as planned in December, and the new parliament will simply start writing a constitution again. And if it the constitution is passed, the agreement made means amendments can be passed dealing with these concerns.
There was a second victory on Saturday against the terrorists, and that was by Iraqi and coalition police and soldiers. The terrorists have made clear their enemy is Iraqi democracy - they know once democracy takes hold their hopes of people accepting a theocracy or another dictatorship are finished - and there is little doubt they would have loved to scuttle the elections. But the police and soldiers worked hard before the election to secure the country, and the day was largely peaceful. So Mr. Bush's bet on democratizing the Middle East looks like a winner. The big question is how long it will take Mr. Bush's critics to accept that democracy in Iraq becoming reality. Mistakes can still be made, and success is not yet guaranteed, but it's looking better every day.