The image of Americans dipping their fingers in blue ink in solidarity with brave Iraqis is striking. Before the war, we assumed that the ordinary people of Iraq would treat us as liberators. Briefly, they did. But the horrifying physical insecurity they faced soon led them to demand more of the foreign military force in the land. I think many Americans might have perceived Iraqis as ungrateful for the sacrifice of our treasure and blood, ungrateful for the liberation. But ordinary Iraqis were grateful to be rid of Saddam, but they were beleagured by the looting and the lack of water and electricity and, in the second-most oil-blessed country in the world, gasoline. They faced an economy that remained wrecked. Mostly, I gather they were distressed by the bombings and the kidnappings that made daily activities dangerous.
Americans too saw Iraq more and more like a military zone, with angry and unruly local populations in places like Fallujah where a mob hung Americans. And American reporters understandably began fearing for their lives, and so retreated back to their status as "embed" with the military, denying us knowledge of ordinary Iraqi people. So ordinary Iraqis vanished from American television.
But the extraordinary bravery of Iraqis (aided by coalition troops and Iraqi security) in voting a week ago in the face of bombings may have helped shift American popular opinion of the people of Iraq. Now it becomes easier to see them as people who have taken a stake in their future. (Of course, Iraqis had a stake in their future before the vote, but they were denied the agency to express it.)
For Iraqis, this was not an affirmation of the American occupation, but a simple expression of the desire to govern themselves. But for the Americans, it seemed almost like gratitude.