This doesn't mean a change of government, necessarily. Most accounts suggest the current administration will be re-elected. But the post-Saddam era is ending, and Iraq is moving to something new. Just what that will be is not clear, but almost everyone will see this as progress.
Saturday's elections were the most peaceful vote since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as well as being the first since Iraq and the U.S. agreed formally that U.S. soldiers will be gone by 2011.
Observers had predicted upheaval at the polls, but there was little. True, it was disappointing that barely half of eligible voters voted, but it was a positive development that Sunnis, who boycotted the 2005 elections, participated in strong numbers.
And the election demonstrated a marked disillusionment with religious parties. Voters signalled a sharp turn toward a secular agenda, evidently putting their support behind Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had campaigned on a platform of public order under a strong central government.
A nationalist wind also seemed to be blowing, with former prime minister Iyad Allawi's party reportedly attracting votes from both Sunnis and Shias. Strong candidates who can appeal to a spectrum of voters are to be welcomed in a country so severely tested by sectarian violence.
Sunni Iraqis, having lost the predominance they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein, are widely understood to have supported the insurgency against the government.
For Sunnis to have turned out for this election suggests that sectarian fighting might have given way to political dispute, although nobody doubts that criminal and terrorist violence will continue on some scale.
A single election does not a democracy make. This voting was carefully structured to avoid inciting Kurdish nationalists. The Kurdish northern areas did not vote Saturday. They will take part in parliamentary elections to be held toward the end of the year. Voting was also put indefinitely on hold in Kirkuk. Serious challenges still confront the new Iraq.
But a new Iraq it is, and there is hope, at least, that the people of this tattered and troubled country can find a way to manage their affairs with ballots instead of bombs and bullets.
To see the article on the Montreal Gazette click here