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Published March 12 2010

Forum editorial: Iraq-style democracy takes root

The elections in Iraq, in which some 60 percent of eligible voters came out, confirm that the seeds of democracy planted in the administration of President George W. Bush have found fertile ground. To his credit, President Barack Obama has not significantly changed American policy in Iraq. While it’s taken longer than most Americans thought it would, Iraq has been changed from a brutal dictatorship into an emerging democracy.

That’s progress. Prior to the American-led coalition invasion in 2003, Iraq’s elections for president featured one candidate who got all the votes. Today the country nurtures a roiling, competing, noisy collection of scores of political parties, hundreds of candidates and thousands of campaign posters plastered all over the nation. In other words, Iraq is beginning to experience the messiness and exhilaration of democracy.

Iraq-style democracy likely will never be exactly like a town hall meeting in New England. Iraqi history is nothing like America’s experience. Iraq’s Islamic heritage works against Western-style democracy. Politics and religion are comingled in ways anathema to the American system. But once Iraqis get a taste of free and fair elections – once they begin to understand that a vote gives them a voice – there is no turning back. Iraq is near that point now, and it’s there only because the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein and then went about the very difficult task of giving Iraq back to Iraqis.

As a candidate, Obama called for immediate withdrawal of American troops. But within weeks of entering the Oval Office and learning what President Bush knew, President Obama’s take on the Iraq war changed from partisan bluster to policy pragmatism. His “immediate withdrawal” was replaced by a troop surge followed by a long phased troop drawdown, which now is defined as removal of all combat troops by August. That’s also progress because it means Iraqi forces at last are trained up to deal with the fading insurgency. It also means an American non-combat forces role will continue for a long time.

The original blueprint for post-Saddam Iraq has been followed with only minor alterations and detours. The war has been long and costly in American lives and treasure, but it appears the original goal – a new democracy in a major Middle East nation – will be achieved.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.