Iraq largely peaceful as Iraqis pick new provincial councils

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 31, 2009 

BAGHDAD — Iraqis walked to polling centers in 14 of the country's 18 provinces on Saturday to pick new local representatives, with no sign of election-related violence. The only killing reported was revenge for a man killed in a car accident in Sadr City.

Vehicular traffic was banned for much of the day as a security precaution, and many voters walked as much as three hours to reach their assigned polling stations. But many others apparently chose not to vote at all, and in the capital the polling centers, surrounded by coiling concertina wire, saw only a trickle of activity.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki lifted the vehicle ban in the afternoon and urged people to get out to vote, but turnout was far less than previous elections, when Iraqis stood in line for hours.

The biggest complaint across the nation was missing names on the rosters at polling stations.

"I am looking for my name and I've been to five poll stations in the neighborhood and I still can't find my name," said Saleh Talib Kadhim, a resident of Jamiaa, a mostly Sunni Muslim neighborhood in the city's west. "I will not give up my right to vote. I will keep looking."

It was Kadhim's first time to cast a ballot. The Sunni Arab boycotted the last election which many perceived as a fraudulent election influenced by Iran and the United States.

In Adhamiyah, Safiya Jassim, 40, proudly announced her family's association with Saddam Hussein's Baath party when she exited the polls.

She voted for a list headed by Ayad Allawi, who the U.S. installed as prime minister in 2004. Allawi is seen as secular; many Iraqis have grown disenchanted with the religious parties that came to power in the last election.

"I came here so our sons might be something, get jobs and stand by us," she said. "Every vote counts."

Tensions were greatest in Nineveh in the country's north as Kurdish and Arab parties vie for seats and control. The current provincial council is dominated by Kurds in the mostly Sunni Arab province.

Sheikh Abdullah al Yawar, the head of the Hadbaa slate, accused Kurdish parties of fraud.

He said members of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Kurdish intelligence were forcing people to choose the Kurdish slate, the Fraternity of Nineveh, with threats and intimidation in the Sinjar district and other areas west of Mosul.

The electoral commission said it was investigating, but province's deputy governor, Khasrow Goran, denied the accusations.

In polls throughout Basra, a dilapidated city that's Iraq’s economic engine because of its oil refineries and harbor, voters reported no serious problems. Election officials put turnout at 40 percent at 12:30 p.m.

One of those voters, Jassim Yousef, said he had picked the party slate backed by Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al Maliki’s Dawa party. Like others, he credits Maliki for cracking down on Shiite militias in Basra.

"I will vote for Maliki, because he is a good person and an honest person. He made a great change last year," said Yousef, 50, a retiree.

Not everyone was happy. Hassaneen Ridha Khamees was turned away because the name on his ration card was misspelledand didn't match voter lists.

"It is your mistake, not my mistake," fumed Khamees, 38. "I walked two hours to vote here. Am I not an Iraqi?"

A poll worker told Khamees he should have reported the misspelling before election day. He stomped off.

Trenton Daniel and Hussein Kadhim contributed from Basra, Ali Abas from Mosul and Sahar Issa from Baghdad.

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