It's gloating time for George W. Bush and those who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Given that nothing else has gone right in the last 22 months, they deserve the moment.
Yes, there would have been no election without the invasion. And the dawn of democracy is indeed glorious. But 100,000 Iraqis are dead, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.
Is there anyone, even among the warmongers, who wants to argue in favor of killing that many people in some other nation to make them free?
Iraq was not invaded to give the locals the right to vote. That retroactive rationale, one of many, is so patently false that its logic stacks up thusly: If Iraqi insurgents killed hundreds to stop the vote, Americans killed 20 times that many to get to it.
In fact, the insurgency hasn't so much been about derailing democracy as ending the American occupation. Don't expect it to end overnight.
Bush urged the Iraqis to risk their lives to vote. They did, in a stunning display of courage.
It was a gamble that paid off. But it was a gamble taken at their expense. Iraqi lives are cheap.
Besides lauding the brave Iraqis, the world should credit Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. It was he, not Bush, who forced the election.
It was at his behest that hundreds of thousands demonstrated a year ago demanding an election, which Bush wanted postponed.
It was Sistani who insisted on the one person-one vote formula, rather than U.S.-style caucuses. It was his edict — "voting is more important than prayer or fasting" — that propelled millions of Shiites, including women, on their death-defying march.
It is his followers, along with the semi-autonomous Kurds, who made a success of this election. It failed where Americans have direct control, in the Sunni heartland.
Finally, had the vote been held last May, as Sistani suggested, there would have been far fewer dead Iraqis and Americans.
Yet, instead of being shamed by his litany of mistakes or humbled by the impotency of his war machine compared to the commanding influence of an aging cleric, Bush has been even more self-congratulatory than usual.
Similarly, the American media, and their acolytes here, have been full of triumphalism that the natives have been given a gift unknown to their dark environs.
But an election for an assembly to write a constitution, to be ratified in a referendum, followed by another election to elect a real government is not all that new to the region. That was precisely the process neighboring Iran used 25 years ago after overthrowing the shah, America's pet autocrat in the region.
It turns out that the Bush administration is not the only one to have been pleasantly surprised by Iraqis exercising their franchise.
Even the liberal New York Times expected to find them in a comatose state of "disabling passivity," and seemed genuinely pleased they behaved exactly as any other people would when freed of an oppressor who, in this case, was once America's darling.
The first phase of the possible democratization of Iraq is welcome. But, to further add to its context, the joyous event was not reported first-hand by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera-TV, the biggest and most credible medium in the Arab world.
It had been kicked out of Iraq in August for not being sufficiently pro-American. And on the day of the election, news came that the pro-U.S. puppet sheikh of Qatar is crumbling under American pressure and may sell off the station.
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears Thursday and Sunday in the Toronto Star.
© 2005 Toronto Star