Since the liberal media long ago lost interest in Iraq, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, we didn’t hear much about the “near miracle” of the country’s provincial elections ?earlier this month. So allow me to recap: There was virtually no violence, and 14,400 candidates from 400 parties competed. Parties defined by religious sectarianism were the big losers, including a pro-Iranian party that was “devastated” at the polls by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s more secular State of Law Party. The big winners? Iraqis, who, despite the “condescension” of those who thought democracy a “fool’s errand” in the Middle East, proved they’re on the way? to functioning, largely secular self-government. The other winner, of course, was the U.S., which now has a nascent? democratic ally in the Arab world.

The election was indeed good news, said Adil E. Shamoo and Bonnie Bricker in the Baltimore Sun, and it means the U.S. can soon go home.? Armed with “myths and distortions about Iraq’s history,” many cynics had questioned whether Iraq was a ?legitimate nation capable of cohering without a brutally? repressive dictatorship. Before joining Barack Obama’s ticket, then–Sen. Joe Biden had? even suggested that Iraq’s only hope lay in a “soft” partition along? sectarian lines, with separate enclaves for Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. But Iraqis? voted in this election for nationalist leaders who would unify them—and thus rejected “the influence of Iran or the U.S.” Now the U.S. must honor its commitment to withdrawing our troops over the next two years.

Dream on, said Thomas Ricks ?in The Washington Post. Having spent a lot of time in Iraq recently researching a book, it’s my sad duty to report that nearly every American military leader there is very pessimistic about the country’s future. Deep sectarian rifts remain in Iraqi society, they say, and only the presence of armed troops has prevented the eruption of violent conflict. Shiite radicals such as Muqtada al-Sadr and Sunni extremists haven’t given up; they’re just biding their time until the Americans leave. The Iraqi military, meanwhile, remains a “deeply flawed” institution, with no qualms about killing Iraqis, and U.S. officials privately are warning that power-hungry generals very well might mount a takeover attempt if the U.S. does, in fact, go home. So let’s not get overly excited about a round of regional elections. “I don’t think the Iraq war is over, and I worry that there is more to come than any of us suspect.”