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From the Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com
Taking Back Iraq

February 8, 2005

In the aftermath of historic elections, Iraqis buried their dead, citizens who died in bomb and mortar attacks as millions of people marched to the polls. Among them was a police officer who tried to stop a suicide bomber, and a fishmonger who, after voting, took tea from his house to election workers at a school. They and others were hailed as martyrs to the cause of freedom. And that's exactly what they were.

It looks like their deaths, and the historic vote, have stirred something significant in Iraq . When Iraqis risked everything to vote, they signaled they would not be denied the chance to choose their own government after decades of oppression. With purpled fingers held high, they began to take their country from the insurgents.

The reporting from Iraq since the election suggests a new attitude has taken hold in many quarters. Police officers and other Iraqi security agents say that they've received more tips from the public, bringing more arrests and boosting their effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the insurgency. The terrorists, an Iraqi official said, are "less legitimate" now.

The insurgency isn't finished. Far from it. On Monday came news of suicide attacks at a hospital and a police station. Iraqis know the violence will continue and American and coalition soldiers will be around for a while. But Iraqis do seem to be looking more to their own security forces and their own government to deal with these problems. And that is a hopeful sign for the long-term prospects for the nation.

Iraq now awaits the final election tally and its new government. The haggling over who will lead the new government and write the constitution is in full swing. The Sunnis apparently want a strong voice in the new government, though they didn't vote in large numbers. There's fresh concern about how far the clerics and their allies will push Islamic law as a basis for the new constitution. The Kurds are restive and pressing demands for autonomy over Kirkuk .

In other words, Iraq 's fledgling democracy is a fledgling democracy.

The new government's first order of business: crushing the insurgents who sought to derail the election and sling the country into chaos. This is, and always has been, a job best suited for the Iraqis themselves. There are encouraging signs that they are warming to the task. In the week after the elections, a newspaper reported, the Iraqi Interior Ministry and the Mosul police chief turned the tables on the insurgents, using a tactic--videotaped messages--that the insurgents mastered in their attempts to terrorize Iraqis. In one scene, a former kidnapper, trembling with fear, tells interrogators, "I am sorry for everything I have done."

Even the usual political blame game has changed. Ever since Saddam Hussein was toppled, many Iraqis blamed Americans for anything and everything, from spotty electricity to rising street crime. But now when some Iraqis tick off their long list of complaints, the mention of America as culprit has been pushed far down the list, if it is mentioned at all.

As one Iraqi tire repairman who voted in the election told a reporter recently: "We have no electricity here, no water, and there's no gasoline in the pumps. Who do I blame? The Iraqi government, of course. They can't do anything."

Griping about the government used to get you imprisoned in Iraq . The elections have yielded what such elections should yield: voters with high expectations and a loud, confident voice.

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