January 31, 2005

A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS:

Iraqis put freedom before fear and vote in their millions (COLIN FREEMAN IN BAGHDAD, NICK BIRCH IN SULEIMANIYA AND GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN IN BASRA, 1/31/5, The Sctsman)
IRAQIS turned out in their millions to vote in the country’s first free elections for half a century yesterday, sending a clear message of defiance to militants who had threatened to disrupt the historic poll with a campaign of violence.

Early fears that many would be deterred from voting by warnings of a bloodbath failed to materialise, and by the time the polling stations closed last night officials estimated a significant turnout of about 60 per cent. [...]

Observers put the lack of a concerted attack down to the tough security measures in place for polling day.

Iraq’s borders have been sealed since Friday and private vehicles have been banned from the country’s roads, depriving suicide bombers of their favoured form of attack.

But despite the Draconian security measures, much of the country saw something of a party atmosphere yesterday as Iraqis cast their votes. "This is my great happiness to do this today - I am not scared of car bombs," said Saleem Khadom, 72, as he voted in southern Baghdad.

"This is my chance to choose who I want in government to bring us a comfortable future."

Mr Khadom, a farmworker, was the first in the queue at the Al Ahrar school polling centre in Baghdad’s Karada district when it opened just before 8am.

Dressed in his best clothes - a grey dishdasha robe and tweed jacket - he disappeared behind the cardboard polling booth, folded his ballot slip into the plastic box and then proudly refused to tell waiting reporters who he had voted for. "It’s my right to keep it secret," he said, grinning.


'Saddam would not allow us to breathe - now we are free' (GETHIN CHAMBERLAIN , 1/31/05, The Scotsman)
"This is the first time to decide for ourselves," said Taliaa Abdul Karim, a young bank worker who turned up at the al Kamadil girls’ primary school with her friends to vote.

It was already late in the day when she walked in, and there was precious little room left in the transparent plastic ballot boxes for her paper. She waited for the clerk to find her name on the register of voters, took her voting forms, went behind one of the cardboard booths set up at the far end of the room, and emerged to drop the two completed forms into the boxes.

Then she dipped her finger into the tub of indelible indigo ink. It was there to make sure no-one voted twice, but people brandished their marked index fingers like badges of honour.

"This is the first time we can be free," she said. "Saddam Hussein was putting us in jail - he would not allow us to breathe."

The future, she said, would not be that way. "We want freedom, freedom of opinion, and I hope it will be just and we will have equality and no sectarian differences. The voice of women should he heard in this society."

Nori Jawad, the jovial headmaster running the polling station, could not contain his excitement. The first people turned up at 7am; by 4pm, an hour before the polls closed, 80 per cent of the 4,020 people on his list had cast their votes.

"Today, everyone is treating it like Christmas," he said. "Yes, Christmas. The old regime is finished. This will succeed. Saddam put pressure on people to come to the elections, but now they come because they want to."


Iraq embraces a brave new world of democracy (James Hider in Baghdad and Richard Beeston in Najaf, 1/31/05, Times of London)
THE last time that Iraqis went to the polls was in 2002 when they voted 100 per cent for Saddam Hussein, the only candidate on the ballot paper.

They voted again yesterday, millions of them, for a host of candidates, in the first free elections that any but the very oldest could remember. [...]

The sick, the old, the blind and lame surged to polling centres, sometimes carried, sometimes wheeled in carts by relatives. Many put on their best clothes and handed out sweets, in imitation of the Muslim holiday of Eid, a week ago.

“This is an historic moment for Iraq, a day when Iraqis can hold their heads high because they are challenging the terrorists and starting to write their future with their own hands,” Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, said.

In the north, a 100-year-old Kurdish woman named Khadija Chalabi came down from the mountains to cast her ballot. “She told us that as long as she’s alive she must vote for the Kurdish people,” said one of her grandsons.

In Baghdad, Samir Hassan, 33, who lost a leg in a terrorist attack, said: “I’d have crawled here if I had to. I don’t want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace.”

In the southern city of Basra, women in black abayas queued for up to three hours to vote. People jubilantly waved the ink stain on their index fingers — a device to prevent fraud. “I’m a human being again,” said a Shia man, overcome by tears. “Showing emotion is part of being human. Saddam dehumanised us.”


A proud city defies terrorists (James Glanz, January 31, 2005, The New York Times)
In Basra, the voting got off to a slow start, as if people were waiting to assess the situation before venturing to the polling centers. The streets were nearly deserted in the early morning, creating an eerie calm, and there were no vehicles except those driven by the hundreds of Iraqi police and the Iraqi National Guard.

It looked at first as if the election experiment might be a failure. But then something changed. By shortly after 9 a.m. the streets looked like a citywide marketplace. The city took on a festive air; people were proud and happy - upbeat about the opportunity to vote.

The turnout was "excellent," said one election worker, Hani Abbas, as he handed out ballots and stamped them at polling station No. 1, the Uday Oda school in the center of the city. "I didn't expect so many people to show up. I feel proud of my people."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 31, 2005 7:19 AM
Comments

First orange neckties, now purple fingers, and to cap it all, Hanoi John getting the s**t kicked out of him on Meet the Press. Who says there is no Santa Clause.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 31, 2005 10:12 AM

Makes me proud to be an American.

Posted by: Larry C at January 31, 2005 10:15 AM

Makes me proud to be an American.

Posted by: Larry C at January 31, 2005 10:15 AM

Today, everyone is treating it like Christmas," he said. "Yes, Christmas.---


Most everyone likes presents.

And he didn't get his tongue ripped out for mentioning it.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 31, 2005 10:15 AM

Larry:

It should. You should keep repeating that. Oh, I see you've already started. :-)

Posted by: Peter B at January 31, 2005 10:21 AM
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