Iraq's national elections are Sunday, but polls opened early today for a handful of government employees. The elections will have significant consequences for Iraq's immediate and long-term future, as well as U.S. plans for troop withdrawal. But the early rounds of voting have been marred by widespread violence in Baghdad, presumably meant to destabilize the country and prevent turnout. Despite fears that bombings would lead to political deterioration, Iraq's fledgling democracy has so far endured. But that hasn't stopped concerns that so much violence at such a pivotal moment could tip the nation toward chaos.

  • Defying the Violence  The New York Times reports, "Iraqi official and United States commanders have braced for violence, imposing strict controls on vehicles and cordoning off entire streets around polling sites. Thursday's attacks made it clear that security gaps remained, but on the streets of Baghdad, where lines of soldiers and police officers formed as soon as voting began at 7 a.m., there was also a sense of defiance."
  • Bombings Overstated  An anonymous Iraqi political blogger scoffs at the hand-wringing. "If you're watching TV to keep up on the election, you would think we're all scared to death. As usual, the media exaggerate. It's a bit noisy out there, but generally people are okay," he or she writes. "The terrorists are still out to get the Iraqi people. They are by no means thoughtful. They are out to murder in great numbers. But life goes on here; we're not hiding under our beds -- at least not yet."
  • Real Challenge Comes After Election  Foreign Policy's Tom Ricks waves off the bombings. "I think the current bombings in Iraq are simply an attempt to scare people before this Sunday's election. They may get media attention but don't seem to me necessarily to represent any long-term trend," he writes. "The big question in my mind is what happens in the three months after the election. How long will it take to form a government? And will that process exacerbate ethnic and sectarian tensions? If we don't see an Iraqi government by June 1, I will be very concerned."
  • Obama Must Recommit to Iraq  The Economist insists Iraq isn't ready to stand on its own without American help. "The country has been devastated, in good part thanks to the miscalculations of America and its Western allies. It is progressing shakily and still needs outside help. And it is vital to the stability of the region. The mission has by no means been accomplished."
  • Could Complicate U.S. Withdrawal  The New York Times' Helene Cooper and Mark Landler worry, "Will parliamentary elections, scheduled for Sunday, throw the country back into the sectarian strife that flared in 2004 and delay the planned American withdrawal?" The authors say this would be a political disaster for Obama back in the U.S. "For the Obama administration, the best strategy could be to remind the Iraqis that they must conduct a responsible election if they want a long-term relationship with the United States."
  • Violence Was Never Biggest Threat  That honor belongs to Iraqi politicians, writes The Economist. "Iraq's main problem is no longer its violence but its politics. Most state institutions have failed to improve at the same rate as the security forces. Occupying a temporary home since the defence ministry requisitioned its building, Iraq's parliament is a glaring example. Legislation barely moves through readings and committees. A counter-terror law is 33rd on a list of 79 bills awaiting approval. A much-needed hydrocarbons law regulating the oil industry is also stalled, as are measures to sort out disputed internal borders."
  • Cyclical Violence Is Inevitable  Retired high-ranking CIA official Howard Hart isn't optimistic. "Even if the elections themselves go fairly well, the record of the past five or six years of political chaos and sectarian violence in Iraq is dismal," he writes. "I think that civil war in Iraq seems very likely - probably starting well before the remainder of our non-combatant units have left at the end of 2011."