To judge from news reports available from Iraq at midday on Sunday, Jan. 30, the terrorist campaign to dissuade voters from going to the polls is succeeding. -- Hamza Hendawi of AP reported that "the polls were deserted in heavily Sunni cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra" Sunday morning, and "in restive Mosul [a city of some two million inhabitants] in the north, American troops and Iraqi soldiers roamed the streets, using loudspeakers to announce the locations of polling sites and urging people to vote. But streets were deserted." -- In Tikrit, seven people voted in two hours. -- Meanwhile, "suicide bombers attacked at least three voting centers in western Baghdad, killing eight people, including three bombers, police and witnesses said." -- The only affirmations of the legitimacy of the elections in the report below come from candidates for office. -- An illiterate Kurdish policemen, for his part, expressed little enthusiasm for the Iraqi experiment: "'I can't read or write so I ticked the number' of the Kurdish ticket, said Fouad Fattah, 29, a policeman in Irbil. 'I was afraid to make a mistake. I hope the Kurds get a great number of votes so that we can rule ourselves.'" -- George W. Bush, however, stuck to the script: "Bush said in his weekly radio address from the White House that the election 'will add to the momentum of democracy.'" ...
VOTING BEGINS IN IRAQ'S FIRST FREE ELECTION IN A HALF-CENTURY, ATTACKS ON
POLLING STATIONS KILL 14
By Hamza Hendawi
January 30, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Iraqis voted Sunday in their country's first free election in a half-century and insurgents made good on threats of violence, launching three deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations across Iraq. At least 14 people were killed, including five policemen.
Casting his vote, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called it "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny." The country's mostly ceremonial president, Ghazi al-Yawer, said it was Iraq's first step "toward joining the free world." [Note: the expression "the free world" was coined at the beginning of the Cold War by non-Communist nations as a collective term of self-description; it was first used in 1950 (OED). --H.A.]
Security was tight. About 300,000 Iraqi and American troops were on the streets and on standby to protect voters, who entered polling stations under loops of razor wire and after being searched.
Despite the heavy attacks, turnout was brisk in some Shiite Muslim and mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods. Even in the small town of Askan in the so-called ''triangle of death'' south of Baghdad a mixed Sunni-Shiite area 20 people waited in line at each of several polling centers. More walked toward the polls.
"This is democracy," said an elderly woman in a black abaya, Karfia Abbasi. She held up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.
In a potentially troublesome sign, however, the polls were deserted in heavily Sunni cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra west and north of Baghdad. Sunni extremists, fearing victory by the Shiites, have called for a boycott, claiming no vote held under U.S. military occupation is legitimate.
The governor of the mostly Sunni province of Salaheddin, Hamad Hmoud Shagti, urged voters over the radio: "This is a chance for you as Iraqis to assure your and your children's future."
A low Sunni turnout could undermine the new government and worsen the tensions among the country's ethnic, religious and cultural groups.
In restive Mosul in the north, American troops and Iraqi soldiers roamed the streets, using loudspeakers to announce the locations of polling sites and urging people to vote. But streets were deserted.
Suicide bombers attacked at least three voting centers in western Baghdad, killing eight people, including three bombers, police and witnesses said.
One policeman was killed and nine people were injured in the first attack, which occurred in the Dawoudi neighborhood.
Another bomber struck the al-Quds school, killing three policeman and one civilian, officials said. Six others were wounded.
The third bomber attacked the Mutamaizen Secondary School in the Mansour district, injuring three policemen, officials said.
Mortar attacks in Khan al-Mahawil, 40 miles south of Baghdad, killed another policeman at a polling station, and a mortar round missed a polling center and hit a nearby home in southwestern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding three others, police Capt. Mohammed Taha said.
Three people were killed when mortars landed near a polling station in Sadr City, the heart of Baghdad's Shiite Muslim community. Seven to eight others were wounded, police said.
"There will be some isolated attacks here and there, but they will not stop the voting," said Majid Lazem Fartousi, one of 159 candidates on the ticket of the Democratic Iraqi Movement.
Al-Yawer was among the first to cast his ballot, voting alongside his wife at election headquarters in the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad. After voting, he walked away with an Iraqi flag given to him by a poll worker.
"I'm very proud and happy this morning," al-Yawer told reporters. "I congratulate all the Iraqi people and call them to vote for Iraq."
Final results will not be known for seven to 10 days, but a preliminary tally could come as early as late Sunday.
The election is a major test of President Bush's goal of promoting democracy in the Middle East. If successful, it also could hasten the day when the United States brings home its 150,000 soldiers. At least 1,428 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
A spokesman for Iraq's elections commission said all the nearly 5,200 polling stations nationwide opened on schedule.
"I don't have a job. I hope the new government will give me a job," said one voter, Rashi Ayash, 50, a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi force. "I voted for the rule of law."
Shiite Muslims, estimated at 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are expected to turn out in large numbers, encouraged by clerics who hope their community will gain power after generations of oppression by the Sunni minority.
"God willing, the elections will be good . . . Today's voting is very important," said the head of the main Shiite cleric-endorsed ticket, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim.
At one voting center in the heavily Shiite Muslim city of Nasiriyah in the south, about 40 people lined up waiting to vote.
But at a school-turned-polling station in Baghdad's middle-class Karrada neighborhood, a mixed Shiite-Sunni area, only three voters appeared in the first 45 minutes.
Under the eye of sharpshooters looking down from nearby rooftops, the three were searched first at an outer perimeter about 40 yards from the school, then they had to remove their jackets and take batteries from their cell phones.
Overhead, helicopters clattered and a jet fighter roared by. Occasional bursts of machine gun fire echoed through Baghdad's deserted streets.
Voting was brisk as expected in Kurdish-ruled areas of northern Iraq, where voters were also choosing a regional parliament.
"I can't read or write so I ticked the number" of the Kurdish ticket, said Fouad Fattah, 29, a policeman in Irbil. "I was afraid to make a mistake. I hope the Kurds get a great number of votes so that we can rule ourselves."
One man marked the forms for his 70-year-old father who was unable to read it himself.
"This is our first (voting) experience. Naturally people are confused," said polling station manager Abdullah Ahmed. "We are not used to it. They don't even know how to put the ballot papers in the boxes."
In Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, only seven people showed up in the first two hours of voting at a school in the city center, while in the diverse city of Baquoba, jubilant voters danced and clapped outside a polling station.
In the northern city of Kirkuk, buses hired by city officials picked up people walking toward voting centers to get them there more quickly.
Iraqis will mark two ballots: one to elect the National Assembly, the other for a provincial legislature.
Insurgents have threatened death to any Iraqis who show up to vote. On Sunday, an Internet posting claiming to be from an al-Qaida linked group that had previously threatened voters warned: "Democracy and representative councils, brothers, is part of the religion of the infidels. . . . Accepting them is . . . renouncing Islam."
Iraqi officials have predicted that up to eight million of 14 million voters -- just over 57 percent -- will turn out for Sunday's election. Voters in the Kurdish-run north also will select a regional parliament.
Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries cast absentee ballots on the second of three days of voting abroad, and officials said that by late Saturday, about two-thirds of those registered had voted so far. Iraqi leaders had been disappointed that less than a quarter of the estimated 1.2 million expatriate Iraqis eligible to vote worldwide registered to do so.
Despite the strict security and a nighttime curfew, guerrillas hit the U.S. Embassy compound in the Green Zone with a rocket Saturday evening, killing a Defense Department civilian and a Navy sailor and wounding four other Americans, according to State Department spokesman Noel Clay in Washington.
The Defense Department released grainy footage shot from an unmanned spy drone of what it said showed figures shooting a rocket and running away. It then showed U.S. soldiers entering a house where the suspected militants sought refuge, and said seven people were arrested.
Another American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. More than 40 American troops have been killed in the past three days.
Bush said in his weekly radio address from the White House that the election "will add to the momentum of democracy."
"The terrorists and those who benefited from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein know that free elections will expose the emptiness of their vision," he said.
A ticket endorsed by the country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is expected to fare best among the 111 candidate lists. However, no faction is expected to win an outright majority, meaning possibly weeks of political deal-making before a new prime minister is chosen.