Despite as many as 100 explosions which killed at least 38 people in Baghdad, Iraqis defied a desperate insurgency yesterday and turned out in strong numbers to choose a new Parliament. According to The New York Times, "turnout was higher than expected, and certainly higher than in the last parliamentary election in 2005. ... Sunnis who largely boycotted previous elections voted in force, and an intense competition for Shiite votes drove up participation in Baghdad and the south." The NYT went on to describe the election as "arguably the most open, most competitive election in the nation’s long history of colonial rule, dictatorship and war."
The United States still has much work to do in Iraq, but yesterday's successful election is a major victory not just for Iraqis, but for everyone who wants to see peace and prosperity in the Middle East. Unfortunately there is still at least one nation in the region that is bent on seeing Iraq's democratic experiment fail: Iran. The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is set to be released in a few weeks, and many insiders fear it is being tweaked to downplay the danger Iran represents to Iraq, the region and the United States. That would be a mistake.
As CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus told CNN this weekend, "Iran has gone from a theocracy to a thugocracy because of the citizens who are outraged by the hijacking of the election that took place last June." And this thugocracy has responded to internal opposition by doubling down on their nuclear ambitions. Nobody wants to live in a world with a nuclear Iran, but too often we are told our choices are limited between the Obama administration’s do-nothing Iran policy and all out aerial bombardment. There are other realistic and effective steps that can be taken. Specifically, The Heritage Foundation has outlined Ten Steps to a Free Iran, including:
1. Impose and enforce the strongest sanctions.
2. Drop opposition to U.S. gasoline sanctions.
3. Target public diplomacy to expose the regime's human rights abuses.
4. Facilitate communications among dissidents.
5. Aid opposition groups.
6. Reduce Iran's meddling in Iraq.
7. Target covert actions to discredit the regime.
8. Modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
9. Expand U.S. military capabilities to defend U.S. interests and allies.
10. Deploy a robust and comprehensive missile defense system.
None of these ten actions constitutes a silver bullet that could dismantle Iran's thugocracy, but taken together they give the Iranian people a great hope for freedom. That is what makes yesterday's Iraqi elections so important. A stable and democratic Iraq offers Shiites an alternative model that helps de-legitimize Iran's Islamist system. Winning in Iraq can be just the first step to bringing freedom to its neighbor to the North.
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