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Proving what Americans value most

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Associated Press

Observers and officials alike predicted that last week would be a bloody one in Iraq, but that didn't make the violence any easier to take. Many more U.S. soldiers had to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring freedom to a people under siege by the friends of tyranny. So did many more Iraqis who want nothing more than the ability to run their own lives in peace.

That sacrifice is stunning — but so is the fact that millions of people in Iraq are expected to willingly risk their lives today just to cast a ballot. If the predictions of angry insurgents hold true, this could be a tragic day over there, even if the ultimate result is a triumph for freedom.

The price of freedom is often overlooked by people in the West who have come to take it for granted. Some are calling today's election illegitimate because most Sunni Arabs are expected to boycott it. The results won't really reflect the will of the nation, they say.

And yet, in the United States millions of people boycott elections through apathy — something that now seems not only scandalous but morally repugnant in the face of all that is going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Self-government is a blessing and a responsibility.

Today's election of a 275-member National Assembly is likely to be challenged and criticized by many. The lack of active Sunni involvement is indeed an impediment to the credibility of the body that is elected, and the expected Shiite majority could lead to further complications if Iraq's long-time enemy, Iran, tries to take advantage of the fact that it, too, is dominated by Shiites. There will be countless ways to attack the vote, just as there were countless arguments in favor of postponing it.

But the mere fact it is taking place is a bold statement about which side is going to triumph. A postponement would have given the enemies of freedom encouragement to continue their relentless assault on lives and liberties.

It also is a bold statement about what we, as Americans, value. What other dominant power in world history would overthrow a rival government with force and establish an occupying presence only to help the local people organize their own democratic government?

In this country, legitimate criticisms have been aimed at the Bush administration for its curtailment of civil liberties in the name of anti-terrorism, and for the indefinite detentions of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. No one knows for sure how long U.S. soldiers will be required to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how many more lives will be required.

But today's Iraqi election is a sure sign that, regardless of the methods, the motives of the United States are pure. Friends and foes of the president alike should be cheering for its success.