Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Whenever I hear good news from Iraq, I wait for a day or two to see how things settle out. So it was with the good news from the elections, where reports from Iraqi bloggers on the ground are that turnout figures were inflated both by generous guesstimation on the part of the officials, and more seriously, by the widespread perception that people who didn't go through the motions of voting would get their food rations cut. Which certainly makes me see those photos of Iraqis with indelibly inked "I voted" fingers in a somewhat different light.

Now, some of these folks may have an undisclosed partisan axe to grind. And even with the best will in the world, they can only report what they see, which is a fraction of the whole picture. Still and all, they generally have a better record than, say, the New York Times's Judith Miller. (Who, by the by, reports that her old buddy Ahmed Chalabi is negotiating for a role in the new, wholly independent, freely elected Iraqi government -- negotiating, that is, with the Americans. But can you believe it?)

But, if you want reports from more, well, established news sources: Reports are now that turnout in Sunni areas, where the insurgents have most power, was apparently very low, and at least one major Sunni group has already denounced the election as illegitimate, even before the results are announced. Even some relatively secure areas didn't even receive ballot boxes.

If the government that results from this manages to convince all Iraqis -- including the ones that didn't or couldn't vote -- of its legitimacy, the election still could turn out to have been a positive step. But from all this, it seems that will be a hard sell. Which is not what you'd necessarily have concluded from the happy headlines in yesterday's newspapers.


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