While most Americans slept, Iraq took its biggest step thus far toward democracy.
Though it was by no means the "resounding success" declared by President Bush, the elections in Iraq this weekend proved democracy could establish a foothold in a country that had not held a legitimate election in 50 years.
The vote, once finalized, will determine the 275 members of the transitional National Assembly, which is charged with drawing up a constitution and selecting a president and two vice presidents, and the members of 18 provincial legislatures. These officials will provide the basis of Iraq's new democratic government.
As expected, insurgents did their best to circumvent the democratic process. During the voting, at least 44 were killed, 71 or more were injured and at least eight suicide bombings occurred.
Even worse, reports say insurgents threw grenades at Iraqis who bore the distinctive voting ink stains on their fingers.
According to American officials, however, the attacks were less severe than expected.
Sabah Kadim, a senior adviser in Iraq's Interior Ministry, said it best when he told CNN, "We have [terrorists] today, we had them yesterday, we will have them tomorrow. The difference will be that the Iraqi people have elected a government that is legitimate that will be much stronger in dealing with them."
These acts of terrorism, however, were not enough to stop Iraqis from voting. Though any figures are highly speculative at this point, the current voter turnout estimate is on the high side of 50 percent to 60 percent of the 14.2 million registered to vote - comparable to the 2004 presidential election, which boasted the highest voter turnout in the United States since 1968.
Not bad for a first election.
The process, however, was not without its problems. The names of most of the 7,000 candidates for office were kept secret until the last days of January, and the locations of most of the 5,300 polling places had not been announced even 12 hours before the election.
Four Kurdish districts outside of Mosul did not receive voting supplies, forcing as many as 100,000 potential voters to go unheard.
And voting among the Sunni minority, because of both apathy and problems with polling locations, was deplorably low.
For all this, it seems the election was as legitimate as could be expected. If the vote counts in the coming days come out as they should, the situation looks good for Iraq to have the foundation set for its new government.
If so, the success of the election - and future of democracy in Iraq - will fall upon the new Iraqi government. It must prove its ability to stabilize relations in the country, primarily by working with the insurgent minority to stamp out terrorism.
The relationship between the democracy and the insurgent minority will certainly define the political climate of Iraq for the foreseeable future.
But if the new government is willing to compromise with all of its constituent peoples, use its power to foster cooperation instead of competition and dedicate itself to a peaceful Iraqi state, there will be much hope for the future.
And the sooner the path is laid for that future, the sooner America will be able to bring its sons and daughters back home.
Reprinted with permission from the Independent Florida Alligator