Democracy is apparently flourishing in Iraq:

In High-Stakes Elections, Iraqis Learn The Art Of Campaigning

Vote tests security efforts, U.S. plans for withdrawal

By Andrea Stone, USA Today

TIKRIT, Iraq More than three weeks before Iraqis will go to the polls to elect their version of state legislatures, the campaigning here seems a bit like what Americans see every four years before New Hampshire's presidential primary: up-close exchanges between candidates and citizens, get-out-the vote efforts, posters everywhere.

Except here, many candidates wear red and white keffiyeh head scarves or gray pinstripes, instead of sweaters and shirt-sleeves. And they greet groups of influential sheiks instead of community leaders in someone's living room. Then there are the local traditions rooted in conservative Islam: Female candidates can't campaign at night, or in some cases talk to groups of both men and women.

And there is the threat of violence. Two candidates have been killed in the northern city of Mosul, including one who was gunned down in a cafe on New Year's Eve. Friday, a suicide bomber killed 23 people at a campaign event south of Baghdad.

The attacks, and the security concerns that hang over the Jan. 31 elections in which voters will fill 440 council seats in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, are stark reminders that the stakes are huge for both Iraq and the United States. The election will mark how well Iraq can deal with centuries-old conflicts among religious sects that have fueled violence for years. The goal is to include Sunni Arabs, former insurgents and other outsiders who haven't participated in past elections.

The election also will be a referendum on U.S. efforts to put Iraq in charge of security after a war that has lasted nearly six years, and on whether American troops will be able to follow through with a planned pullout by the end of 2011.