What Passes for Normal in Iraq

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Arab leaders everywhere, take note: It's likely that the interim president of largely Arab Iraq will not be Arab.

That's just one amazing twist expected from the results of Iraq's Jan. 30 election being released this week - one that sends a message to the Middle East that democracy can lead to the kind of persuasion and compromise that's badly needed in a region mainly run by force and dictate.

Iraq's election is bringing other surprises as well:

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• Radicals who want clerics to rule lost badly in the election - a sign that Iraqis have learned well from the negative example next door in Iran.

• A welcoming hand is being extended by the winning Shiite parties to the group that largely didn't vote, the minority Sunnis, to help write the nation's constitution.

• The most pro-American group, the Kurds, won enough seats to become the key power broker and force the Shiite parties to woo them as a partner to form a necessary two-thirds majority in the legislative assembly. (Thus, a Kurd may be chosen as president.)

• For the first time, freely elected Iraqi leaders are engaging in political negotiations in which no one really knows the final outcome.

• All winning parties appear committed to the concept that Iraq need not be run by one group holding absolute power, and that strong minority interests should be respected.

• Despite the presence of 130,000 American troops in Iraq and the spending of billions of dollars by the US, the Bush administration appears to have little influence in the back-room talks over who will be selected as president and prime minister.

All this shows how elections can bring moderation to a divided society. Iraq isn't a full democracy yet - the assembly's main task is to write the constitution that will lead to another election. And Iraqi leaders still must work hard to quell the Sunni insurgents, and find a role for Islamic values - all the while avoiding a collapse of the nascent government.

But Iraqis are in charge of Iraq now and, so far, they're beating expectations.

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