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European Press Review: Hope for Iraq?

The editorial pages of Europe's dailies on Monday were dominated by reactions to the elections in Iraq. Comments were split as to whether the vote represented a victory for democracy in the war-torn country.

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Europe's editors praised brave Iraqis who risked their lives to vote

Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung observed that the atmosphere surrounding Sunday's election alternated between a dance of joy and a dance with death. "The corpses will be counted before the votes are counted," the paper wrote. "Bombs in Baghdad and Basra, attacks and skirmishes in many parts of the country -- democracy was under heavy fire." Despite the violence, the paper noted that the rebels were unable to achieve their goal of stopping the vote, thanks to all the Iraqis who risked their lives to cast their ballots.

The Times of London also praised the courage of Iraqis taking part in the elections. "Millions of Iraqis had been warned that if they went to polling stations, their blood would wash the streets. They voted anyway," the paper wrote. "The great question to be answered by Iraq's first free election in half a century was not who won but how many people voted," the paper said, adding: "The answer must be -- enough."

An impossible gamble

"Should we celebrate these elections in Iraq?" asked the French daily Le Monde. "Yes, without a doubt, as there have never been free elections in this country," it replied. But, the paper wondered how the elections could possibly reflect the political realities of modern Iraqi society, given the fact that they took place under the pressure of the occupation and the threat of terrorism.

Belgium's De Standaard was among those papers that deemed the election a success for taking place at all. "It looked like an impossible gamble," said the paper, and yet this important step in the post-Saddam democratic process "has turned out all right."

"When a nation holds its first elections after a long period of dictatorship, a temptation is to rejoice at the mere fact of its happening," wrote Britain's The Guardian, adding that such a reaction would be premature. "In many respects it is difficult to be confident that this was a free or fair election, given the violence and intimidation surrounding it." Nor, the paper said, do we have any idea when the "grim nightmare of violence" for Iraqis will finally end.

The Swiss paper Le Temps took a similar view. "Certainly the elections do not spell the end of the problems," it wrote, "nor do they provide a justification after the fact for what was a vile war."

But at least George W. Bush and Tony Blair can breathe a sigh of relief, commented Italy's Il Messaggero. The US president in particular can be satisfied for at least three reasons, the paper wrote: With the election, he "made progress against the threat of terrorism; proved to the world that democracy and freedom can also be created with weapons; but most of all, paved the way for America's exit strategy out of Iraq." The latter is the true goal of the American government, the paper said, since it has proved incapable of bringing security to Iraq after its swift military victory.

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