I am no expert on this topic, so I wish to draw your attention to someone who is: Juan Cole. He has a good post on the meaning of these elections in terms of the politics of tomorrow. He also links to a study by Zogby which showed that
The survey, to be released at 5 p.m. ET on Abu Dhabi Television, found three-quarters (76%) of Sunni Arabs say they definitely will not vote in the January 30 elections, while just 9% say they are likely to vote. A majority of Shiites (80%) say they are likely to vote or definitely will vote, as are a smaller majority of Kurds (57%).
Majorities of both Sunni Arabs (82%) and Shiites (69%) also favor U.S. forces withdrawing either immediately or after an elected government is in place.
The poll also found that of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups, only the Kurds believe the U.S. will "help" Iraq over the next five years, while half (49%) of Shiites and a majority (64%) of Sunni Arabs believe the U.S. will "hurt" Iraq.
The election was in the nature of a referendum on various parties as individual candidates' names were not known to the voters beforehand (and in some cases the candidates themselves had not known that they were on a list). It's hard to see what the voters were voting for, exactly. Maybe it was just for the idea of voting?
I'm glad and relieved that casualties were kept to a minimum, and I'm happy for the Iraqis who could vote for the first time in decades. But the meaning of this election will not be clear for some time. The day of voting is not all there is to democracy, and most of the real tests lie ahead. To be quite honest, I'm not more optimistic than I was before the elections. Although maybe Bush can now withdraw the troops honorably, pretending that everything has been fixed. That would be something to cheer about.