Once again, Iraqis turned out in droves to cast their votes in national elections.  Estimates for turnout range from 55-60%, even though terrorist attacks wound up killing 36 people yesterday:

The range given by Faraj al-Haidari, who heads the Independent High Electoral Commission, is down from the December 2005 parliamentary election turnout of 76 per cent, although it’s higher than last year’s provincial elections when just over half of voters cast ballots. If the preliminary figure, due to be officially announce later today, falls within this range it is likely to be considered a disappointing but still credible level of participation. The full results of the election will take several days to arrive.

Turnout is an important measure of success for the election. To be credible and effective, Iraq’s next government will need the backing of a large number of people in the deeply divided country.

The election was marred by violence yet according to the American military less than was initially reported. Al Qaeda is said to have fooled the Iraqi government and millions of voters into believing they were under attack from sustained mortar fire.

Would a 60% turnout really be consided “disappointing”?  If so, then some American elections would fall into that category as well.  Given the violence and the threats — al-Qaeda spent hours simulating mortar fire with bottle bombs to intimidate Iraqis — a 60% turnout looks a lot more courageous than disappointing.

Of course, part of the calculus in that equation depends on who voted, and where.  If the Sunnis participated in strong numbers, that will be seen as an indication that the Iraqis have begun to transfer the issues between Shi’a and Sunni from the gun to the ballot.  Sunnis mostly boycotted the first national election, but have participated in varying strength in following elections.  If their numbers drop significantly from the previous election, it will be seen as a signal that the Sunnis mave rejected the political framework of the new Iraq and may return to armed resistance.  That appeared to be their direction a few weeks ago, when Baghdad disqualified hundreds of Sunni candidates, most of which were returned to the ballot later.

Two facts are indisputable: the Iraqis continue to show courage and commitment to their new democracy, and the terrorists have not been beaten yet.  We should keep both in mind when developing policy regarding Iraq.