The elections in Iraq

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I am writing far from Iraq and with less than ideal access to information, but it appears that the elections Saturday were a success. Turnout was higher than in the January elections, and the constitution appears to have been approved by a wide majority. The Sunnis seem to have been split: Two Sunni provinces voted heavily against the constitution, but the vote in other Sunni-dominated provinces appears to have been in favor.

Here's an interesting metric, subject to revision in light of later or better information. There were 347 attacks against Iraqis and Americans in the January elections. There were 13 such attacks in the October election. That's 347 versus 13: a big difference, even if the numbers turn out to be somewhat different. What could account for this?

More and better Iraqi security and military forces. The recent revelation, by an administration that has been all too reluctant to present metric evidence, that there are some 36 Iraqi battalions capable of fighting "in the lead" and about 80 capable of fighting alongside U.S. forces shows a vast increase in Iraqi forces. The huge decrease in the rate of attacks suggests they've been effective, at the very least, in deterring attacks.

Changes in opinion among Sunnis. At least some Sunni organizations endorsed the constitution, and many urged their followers to vote, if only against—a big difference from January, when the Sunni organizations mostly boycotted the elections. The decrease in number of attacks suggests similar changes in opinion among Sunni potential attackers: Many fewer evidently wanted to launch attacks in October than in January.

There's always a danger in assessing the course of military action of overreliance on metrics. Recall the body counts in the Vietnam War. And metrics are not always accurate: I'd be grateful for updates or corrections on these. But the decline in the number of attacks looks to be very stunning. It looks like the difference between a widespread resistance and a few bands of bitter-enders. Mainstream media have ill served the American people by suggesting that violence in Iraq is endemic and endless. The Bush administration has ill served the American people by not highlighting measures of progress until recently. Public opinion polls in the United States suggest pessimism about the course of things in Iraq. Public opinion polls in Iraq have suggested that people are more optimistic there. And, apparently, with good reason.