This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
Sometimes the most remarkable stories are those that don't appear on Page One. Last weekend's provincial elections in Iraq caused hardly a ripple on the news front, but that's precisely why the event was noteworthy. An election in Iraq went off so smoothly that hardly anyone noticed.
Compared to past elections, when daring to vote meant having to dodge bullets, this is a landmark achievement. As welcome as this development is, however, it should not be misread. One violence-free election does not a democracy make. Nor does it signal the end of conflict. Still, it represents political progress, raising the prospect that Iraq might yet become the kind of moderate, stable Middle East state that the Bush administration imagined when it launched the war nearly six years ago.
The elections for regional council representatives in 14 of the country's 18 provinces will not change Iraq's political make-up.
In most places, voters backed Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's candidates and his secular agenda. Sunni voters took part instead of engaging in boycotts, as they have done before. Candidates backed by the extremist, Iranian-backed cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, failed to make significant gains.
These are all welcome developments. There were claims of vote fraud in places, but these are hardly unique in developing countries. More important is that Iraqi forces managed to provide most of the security at polling places, replacing U.S. troops.
The elections may benefit President Barack Obama, who has been a critic of U.S. involvement in Iraq. The outcome helps to justify his policy of withdrawing U.S. troops and moving quickly to implement an exit strategy. But this is just the start of a process. It is not time to declare victory. However, it does make the hope of victory more realistic.