On March 7, I had the privilege to observe the elections in Iraq as part of a six-person international team of election monitors organized by the International Election Monitors Institute. What I saw was an inspirational example of the Iraqis’ commitment to democracy. Early vote counts indicate that more than 60 percent of registered voters cast ballots. This is a remarkable turnout, given the level of violence we witnessed in Baghdad, where more than 25 percent of the population resides.

For a new democracy, the field of candidates was vast. More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political parties competed for 325 seats in the Council of Representatives, the Iraqi national lawmaking body. Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis participated as poll workers and election monitors. In contrast to previous elections, which some sects boycotted, this year powerful Shia religious leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr encouraged their followers to participate in the election. Leaders in the Sunni community and Kurdish area also encouraged people to vote.

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