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Iraq's Latest Milestone By: Ralph Peters
New York Post | Tuesday, September 30, 2008


LAST week, Iraq passed another milestone on the difficult road to political maturity: Its parliament unanimously approved a new election law insuring broader participation than ever before.

In early winter, Iraqis will vote in regional elections in the country's 14 Arab-majority provinces (the Kurds are ahead of the cycle - as they are in most things). Only the tricky status of Kirkuk must still be resolved.

Despite legions of international nay-sayers, democracy worked. After posturing for their own party bases, Iraqi politicians compromised on critically important issues. The result is the most enlightened electoral blueprint between Israel and India.

The systemic clout of religious blocks and parties has been reduced. A quarter of the contested seats are reserved for women. Safeguards promise the most honest balloting ever held in an Arab-majority state.

The new electoral program brings the outsider Sunni Arabs back into the power fold, acknowledging their "flip" against al Qaeda and their renewed allegiance to the central government. The Shia majority will have to give up some power.

More remains to be done to ensure a voice for Iraq's smallest minorities, but, in a country where the political bad blood is real blood - generations of it - this law marks progress worthy of global applause.

And you probably haven't heard a word about any of this. The media's code of silence on good news from Iraq (in place until Nov. 4) is in full force. Bombings still merit a breathless mention - even as they become ever less frequent - but the legislative progress in Baghdad gets buried deep in the inside pages, if it's reported at all.

Yes, there's been plenty of news here at home. But the triumph-over-adversity saga playing out in Iraq should teach us a timely lesson: As I've pointed out repeatedly in these pages, Iraq's parliament has achieved far more in the last two years than has our own feckless Congress.

In Iraq, legislators whose families killed each other manage to agree on what's best for their country. Here in the US, our elected officials can't even agree that hardworking citizens should be protected ahead of corrupt financial-world executives.

(Iraqis should thank their lucky stars that we sent them Gen. David Petraeus rather than Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson - or Baghdad would be bankrupt and allied with North Korea by now.)

We should be deeply troubled that, for all of Iraq's endemic corruption and lack of a democratic heritage, its lawmakers consistently outperform ours.

Iraq deserves recognition for the immense distance its people have covered in a very short period by historical standards (they've even got a budget surplus).

Certainly, a great deal remains to be done in Iraq. Mistrust remains high and misapprehensions abound. The dilemma posed by the Saddam-era policy of Arabization in the historically Kurdish city of Kirkuk has no easy solution.

Plus, Iraqis are still arguing over state-versus-provincial control of oil rights and profit distribution. Terrorists, shoved up against the wall, can still spit in Iraq's eye - expect a wave of desperate attacks as al Qaeda tries to shape the US election. And the presence of our troops, in reduced numbers, remains vital.

Nonetheless, given the mess our own selfish, squabbling political parties have gotten us into of late, Iraq looks pretty good. If they can pull together for their tormented country's sake, can't we do the same for ours?

The course of history is confounding. Iraq, which was supposed to fail, increasingly looks like a game-changing success story. The failures have been much closer to home.


Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."


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