Iraqi voters defy threats, violence

26 killed as insurgents unleash a barrage of mortars to disrupt elections

Iraqi voters defy threats, violence

A Kurdish woman lets her daughter place her vote in the ballot box, at a polling station in Suleimaniya, Iraq, on Sunday.

Barrages of mortars also hit the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah in the western mainly Sunni Anbar province, the largest in Iraq, and in Mahmoudiya, a town just south of the capital.  On the eve of the poll three Iranian pilgrims died in an attack in the Shia holy city of Najaf.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is fighting to return to office, stated: “These acts will not undermine the will of the Iraqi people” to cast their ballots. He and other senior members of the government voted in Baghdad’s US-protected Green Zone, which was targeted with mortars.

In a communique on its web site, al-Qaeda affiliate, the “Islamic State in Iraq,” warned voters that they were risking their lives by participating in the parliamentary poll.

However, Iraqis were not deterred by such threats. Long lines formed outside polling stations everywhere in the country, including in Sunni neighbourhoods and provinces which boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Tight security

In the 15 Arab majority provinces, security was tight. More than 200,000 members of the armed forces were on duty and there was a ban on the movement of vehicles, compelling voters to walk to the polls. Voters living in hot areas adopted a grimly defiant attitude towards violent elements that sought to disrupt the election.  

By contrast, in the relatively peaceful autonomous Kurdish region, the police presence was light, traffic was normal, and there was a festive atmosphere. Large numbers of people voted in the capital and cities and villages of Suleimaniya province which borders on Iran. Here the ruling parties were challenged by the recently-founded “Change” movement which campaigned on an anti-corruption platform.

At the “Angel” girl’s school near the main bazzaar of Suleimanya city, Kurdish men and women lined up separately to enter the polling station but voted together in rooms designated by the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Many of the women were dressed in holiday finery, brightly coloured semi-transparent caftans worn over gold lame shirts and loose trousers.

Men wore the traditional one-piece suit and cummerbund and turban sported by the Kurds. They showed their identity and voting cards, collected their ballots, entered cardboard booths, and checked a single candidate or list on their ballot papers, sealed them into envelopes and dipped their right index fingers into a pot of purple ink before dropping the envelop into a sealed plastic bin. The process here was smooth and efficient.

More than 18 million of Iraq’s 27 million citizens were eligible to vote for 6,200 candidates standing for 325 seats in Iraq’s national assembly.  Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living abroad in 16 countries were also allowed to participate. Their votes will be counted in their native provinces. While preliminary results are expected within hours of the closing of the polls, the final outcome will not be certified before early April.  Cabinet making could take weeks because no bloc or party can win a majority.

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