This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald on Feb. 5:

Last weekend’s provincial elections 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 nearly six years ago.

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, 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.

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