Paul From Minneapolis

Friday, December 16, 2005

Read It and Weep

That's what I did, anyway. John F. Burns is a solid reporter from the NYT; he's gone from optimism to, generally, pessimism or sadness since 2003. Yet here he is today (registration required but not payment):

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 15 - Ali is only 9 years old. But when he and his buddies broke away from a street soccer game to drop into a polling station in Baghdad's Adhamiya district at noon on Thursday, Ali, a chirpy, tousle-haired youngster, seemed to catch the mood of the district's Sunni Arab population as well as anybody.

"We don't want car bombs, we want security," he said. Yards away, Sunni grown-ups were casting ballots in classrooms where the boys would have been studying Arabic or arithmetic or geography - "Boring, boring!" said Ali - had the school not been drafted for use as one of 6,000 polling stations across Iraq.

On a day when the high voter turnout among Sunni Arabs was the main surprise, Ali and his posse of friends, unguarded as boys can be, acted like a chorus for the scene unfolding about them. A new willingness to distance themselves from the insurgency, an absence of hostility for Americans, a casual contempt for Saddam Hussein, a yearning for Sunnis to find a place for themselves in the post-Hussein Iraq - the boys' themes were their parents', too, only more boldly expressed.

Adhamiya, on the east bank of the Tigris River, only a 10-minute drive from the heart of Baghdad, has been so much in the insurgents' grip that American military helicopters have avoided flying overhead for most of the past 33 months. But as whole families gathered to walk neighborhood streets on the way to the polls, and with turnouts at some voting centers surpassing 60 percent barely halfway through the voting day, Sunnis -young, old and in-between, prosperous and middle-class and unemployed, merchants and tribal sheiks and schoolteachers - seemed to relish the chance to take part.

"Happy days!" said Salim Saleh, a 52-year-old government official, finding a few remembered words of schoolboy English.

And it goes on from there. The headline: "Freedom from Fear Lifts Sunnis in Iraqi Election."

There are caveats; nothing's guaranteed. But for those who proclaim with certainty that the Iraqis, especially the Sunnis, will never be able to own this supposed revolution we've forced on them: maybe not. But maybe.

For at least as long as the insurgent pullback to allow the Sunni voting lasted, people in the district seemed freed from intimidation, and the recurrent references to this sense of freedom reflected it.

"Before, we had a dictator, and now we have this freedom, this democracy," said Emad Abdul Jabbar, 38, a teacher acting as supervisor at the Ahrar school polling site. "This time, we have a real election, not just the sham elections we had under Saddam, and we Sunnis want to participate in the political process."

There I go again.

Update: It ain't just me. Mickey Kaus: John Burns' interactive report from Iraq... is the best thing I've seen on the Web today. It's highly informative (i.e. about Ambassador Khalilzad's preferences in a government) and if you can get through it without tearing up you're tougher than I am....