It's been a long and difficult road to Iraq's third-ever national elections, held Sunday across the country. A constitutional crisis threatened to derail everything, as did the relentless bombings. But Iraqis came out, despite Sunday attacks that killed 36, in 55 to 60 percent turnout. That's comparable to U.S. turnout, which was 56.8 percent in 2008. Symbolically, it's an important step for Iraqi democracy, sovereignty, and rule of law. But there's more to it than that. Here's what made Iraq's elections so successful.

  • Sunni Arabs Drop Guns to Vote Despite widespread boycotts in 2005, Iraq's beleaguered Sunni Arab minority--once the ruling class under Saddam Hussein--came out in droves on Sunday. The New York Times' Anthony Shadid explains that Sunnis look to be moving on from the anti-American violence of years past. In Falluja, "the scratchy loudspeakers of muezzins that once preached resistance to the American occupation implored Sunni Arabs to defy bombs and vote Sunday." However, Shadid warns that Arab Sunnis' virulent politics and anti-Iranian rhetoric could complicate Iraq's already troubled political system.
  • Iranian Influence Al Jazeera's Sam Sasan Shoamanesh writes that, even if the U.S. and Iran disagree on almost everything, they share a desire to leverage influence in Iraq to promote peace and stability. "A stable Iraq, free from ethnic strife is in line with Iran's national interests. The last thing Iran needs is a disintegrated Iraq, with an energised surge of ethnic and sectarian clashes causing havoc in the country, placing Iraq's territorial integrity at risk, and producing a refugee flow to its borders."
  • Iraqis Unite Across Sectarian Lines CENTCOM chief General David Petraeus tells Fareed Zakaria, "Because all progress that has been made to date, all of the legislation that's been passed and so forth, has all required cross sectarian, cross ethnic coalitions, and I think that actually will continue to be the case, because when you do the math, there's no way that a prime minister will be elected without a cross sectarian and indeed cross ethnic coalition developing to elect that individual and the other key members that will be part of the package."
  • U.S. Troops--Which Is Why They Should Stay The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart attributes the successes to the American presence, warning, "If the president sticks to his Iraq withdrawal timetable, this weekend's inspiring democratic elections could be the country's last." Beinart says the U.S. military wants to maintain a moderate presence--30,000 to 50,000 troops--in Iraq, and should get it. "The military has invested epic quantities of money and blood in Iraq, and U.S. commanders don't want it to be in vain. Plus, an Iraqi civil war that sucked in its neighbors--as civil wars often do--would be horrendous. Although the Democratic base wants out of Iraq, the lesson of Afghanistan is that the military's view matters more."
  • Iraqi Courage The Daily Telegraph marvels, "There is something moving about the sight of people queuing to vote in countries which have been racked by violence ... Iraq's politicians now have to prove themselves worthy of the new mandate granted them by a courageous electorate."