Yesterday was a good day for Iraq, and for imitation Iraq, or Hollywood. For both the Green Zone and the Red Carpet, the odds were defied, the critics upended.
In Iraq, over 70 percent of Iraqis eligible to vote turned out – compared to a 63 percent turnout during last year's hotly contested American presidential election -- despite a spasm of morning violence designed to keep voters home. Defying attacks which killed at least 36 people, Iraqis of all religions and ethnicities filled more than 50,000 voting booths in over 8,000 polling stations to cast ballots for hundreds of candidates.
The Iraqi security forces maintained order and prevented the kind of catastrophic attack that had previously marred great events in that war-weary land. This time, Sunnis did not boycott the election as they had in 2005. And in Kurdistan, where two parties have traditionally dominated regional politics, a third party emerged as a distinct player on the Iraqi Kurdish scene.
Even President Obama, whose opposition to the unpopular Iraq war and vow to remove all American forces there as soon as possible helped assure his 2008 electoral victory, congratulated what he called the "honor, the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people who once again defied threats to advance their democracy."
Earlier, even his vice president, Joe Biden, who as a senator had warned that Iraq would break up into three regions, was acknowledging that representative government seemed to be taking hold in Baghdad. Former President Bush must have been amused by his assertion that Iraq was likely to be "one of the great achievements of this administration."
Memories are short in Washington.
Of course, cataclysmic sectarian violence may still erupt in Iraq. Yes, the country could still come unglued, or become, as some have warned, a pawn for Iran, with its powerful radical theocracy right next door. But Sunday's election was an event to relish.
Hollywood, too, put aside its knee-jerk hostility to the war in Iraq to pay tribute to a creation as rare as representative government in the Arab Middle East – a Hollywood movie that was, if not openly pro-war, at least neutral about the conflict. The liberal academy gave its highest endorsement to "Hurt Locker," the low-budget film portraying the work of an "Explosive Ordinance Disposal" team in Iraq. The film was, of course, a work of fiction, but it stood virtually alone in a field of stridently anti-Iraq war films – most notoriously the dreadful 2007 flick "In the Valley of Elah" – based curiously on an article by the same author who wrote what became the theme of "Hurt Locker." These anti-war agitprop films were praised by film critics, but shunned in droves by American movie goers.
According to Box Office Mojo, which tracks box-office revenues, "The Hurt Locker" earned only $14.7 million, which makes it the lowest grossing movie ever to win the Oscar for best film. Maybe the Oscar will prompt more Americans to see this film gem. "Hurt Locker," which defeated the front-runner, all-time-box-office-grossing megahit, "Avatar," also a remarkable film, won not only best picture, but "best director." Kathryn Bigelow, the film's director and prime mover, is, or course, the first woman in the Academy's 82-year history to be so honored. She had the good grace to dedicate her prize to the "to the women and men of the military who risk their lives every day in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world," she added. "May they come home safe."
That is a sentiment that Iraqis and Americans undoubtedly now share.