The Year In Iraq

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Iraqi women cast their votes for the Iraqi election at a polling station in the town of Az Zubayr, in southern Iraq, Thursday Dec. 15, 2005. Elections for a 275-member National Assembly took place across Iraq on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
AP

For American soldiers in Iraq, 2005 was another long year of grinding patrols and deadly encounters. For Iraqis it was another year of fear -- fear of car bombs, fear of kidnappings, fear of attack and counter-attack in a civil war bubbling just below the surface.

But the year ended with a celebration of democracy -- Iraqis came out by the millions to vote. For one whole day -- even in insurgent strongholds like Fallujah -- it was ballots, not bullets or bombs, that Iraqis used to shape their country's future, and the votes are still being counted.

The year 2006 will be a turning point in Iraq's history. The question is: in which direction? The year will start with the release of official election results. The new government will need the backing of Iraqis from all ethnic groups to lead the way forward. Success could mean American forces can start coming home. Failure could mean an all out civil war.

Only days after the elections, Sunni Arabs were already out on the streets crying fraud. They had ruled Iraq for decades, lording it over Shi'ites in the south and Kurds in the north. Now a one-man, one-vote democracy has left them with few bargaining chips.

While the politicians are negotiating in back rooms, partisan militias are fighting it out in back allies. The cycle of attack and revenge is spiraling out of control and, all too often, American forces are getting caught in the crossfire.

Cobiella asks if troops in Iraq know what they want for the new year.

"The same wish I've had for the last 365 days, to get every one of these guys home to their

And the troops in Iraq know that a strong and stable Iraqi government is their best ticket home.

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    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.