The Washington Post said Monday that "many members of Iraq's educated upper middle class [are] flee[ing] the country in advance of the Jan. 30 elections."  --  In an article on the sentiments of those making arrangements to leave, the Post quoted one woman who said she would not vote, because "I am not crazy. . . . I just want to stay alive until I can leave the country for good. My husband works here in Baghdad; otherwise, I would take him and live outside of Iraq. . . . I would have been proud if my husband died in the [past] war, as he was an officer. . . . I hate this country now."  --  Another said she was going to Egypt with her 16-year-old daughter and would not return:  "It is going to be so bad here during the elections and worse after." ...

World

Middle East

The Gulf

Iraq

ANXIOUS IRAQIS ARE LEAVING BEFORE ELECTIONS
By Jackie Spinner and Naseer Nouri

** Some Plan to Wait Out Vote Abroad; 'I Will Not Stay in Baghdad,' Commissioner Says **

Washington Post
January 17, 2005
Page A13

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14238-2005Jan16.html

BAGHDAD -- Abu Muhanned, a former Iraqi army officer, fished into his back pocket and pulled out a black leather wallet stuffed with $100 bills.

He had brought his wife and 12-year-old son to a busy travel agency in downtown Baghdad last week to buy airplane tickets to Egypt. Sudad, the owner of the agency, a petite woman whose desk was stacked with green Iraqi passports, asked Abu Muhanned when he wanted to leave.

"As soon as possible," he replied.

Sudad, who asked that her last name and the location of her agency not be disclosed, nodded knowingly. She had been hearing similar requests for weeks, as many members of Iraq's educated upper middle class flee the country in advance of the Jan. 30 elections.

Iraqi officials have said they were encouraged by the millions of people checking to make sure they were registered to vote. This is one of the few tangible, statistical signs that the populace is gearing up to participate.

An estimated 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the elections, which will choose 18 provincial councils and a 275-member National Assembly. The assembly will appoint a central government and draft a constitution.

But despite the significance of the elections -- the first democratic vote in the country in nearly half a century -- a growing number of Iraqis are making plans to get as far from the voting booths as possible.

Abu Muhanned, for example, does not plan to stick around for Jan. 30. At the travel agency, he asked Sudad to make a reservation at a five-star hotel in Cairo, where he said the family would wait out the election period.

Abu Muhanned, who declined to give his full name, said he lost his job when the U.S.-led occupation disbanded the Iraqi army in May 2003. He has since become a merchant, but it is hard, competitive work in a capital filled with former military officers and government officials-turned-salesmen.

"This no longer feels like my country," said Abu Muhanned, 45, who was dressed in a gray suit and tie. "We will come back on the 3rd of February, when everything will be finished."

His wife, Um Muhanned, her tiger-print scarf tucked into a black wool jacket, sat at his side. They looked like a fashionable, well-heeled couple about to go on holiday. But Um Muhanned said they were leaving to escape violence -- the suicide bombers, the gunmen, the insurgents who have vowed to hunt down and kill anyone who votes.

"It is getting worse and worse," she said. "I am afraid now even when I am sitting here that a car bomb will explode in any minute and all of us will die."

Um Muhanned, who also declined to give her full name, said she wished she could stay home. But even if she did, she said, she would not vote.

"I am not crazy," she said. "I just want to stay alive until I can leave the country for good. My husband works here in Baghdad; otherwise, I would take him and live outside of Iraq." In the past, she added, "I would have been proud if my husband died in the war, as he was an officer. . . . I hate this country now."

Another traveler, who gave her name as Um Sara, said she and her 16-year-old daughter also planned to go to Egypt before the elections. But they did not plan to return.

"It is going to be so bad here during the elections and worse after," she said. "There will be lots of car bombs and explosions. I don't know in which one of them me or my daughter will die."

Because she is divorced, Um Sara said, there would be no one to care for her daughter if something happened to her. She said she works for an Egyptian company, which helped arrange their visas.

"My friend lost her daughter in a car bomb in the street last week," she said. "I do not want to lose my daughter, too."

A third customer at the travel agency, Suhair, was making arrangements to go with her three children elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, where she said her husband found a job six months ago.

"He was going to come back to Baghdad to visit us next month, but after we heard about the elections, we expected it to be so dangerous," said Suhair, 45, who declined to give her last name. "I asked him not to come here and suggested we go there instead."

Suhair said her husband, an electrical engineer, agreed and told her to sell all their belongings.

"He has a good job there," she said. "He used to be a military officer, and we used to live a good, safe life. He lost his job, and we lost our safety, so now we are leaving. I will not come back until Iraq will become the Iraq we dream to have."

Suhair's daughter Fatima, 18, who had been sitting quietly at her side, raised her head. "But we will lose all the childhood friends we grew up with," she said in a low voice.

At another travel agency nearby, Abu Ahmed, 41, bought three airline tickets to Amman, Jordan, for his family. Although he is a member of Baghdad's electoral commission, he said he planned to leave within days.

"I will not stay in Baghdad during the election," Abu Ahmed said. He said that when he arrived home last week, three strange men in a blue sedan were waiting outside and one of them put a knife to his neck.

"I think that was enough warning for me," he said.

Sudad, the travel agent, said she, too, would leave -- if she did not have so much business making departure arrangements for everyone else.

Asked if she intended to vote, she just laughed and said, "Come on."