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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Iraqis Vote, Hope for Better Future

By Afif Sarhan, IOL Correspondent

BAGHDAD — Amid tight security, millions of Iraqis went to polling stations on Saturday, January 31, in the country's provincial elections they hope to bring peace and security to the war-torn country.

"It is a pleasure to be here today on a shared democracy," Hassan Fawad, 26, told as he cast ballot in Yarmouk district polling station in Baghdad.

"Since I was kid I never understood the real meaning of this world but today it was clear to me.

"It is our chance to have our voice inside the government by electing someone we know or had the chance to hear their proposals."

About 15 million people are eligible to cast ballots to elect 440 councilors from among more than 14,400 candidates in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Polling closes at 5 pm (1400 GMT), with results expected to start rolling in on Tuesday.

In Sadr city, the major Shiite suburb in Iraq, voters did not hide their preference to cast ballot to candidates backed by Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

In southern Iraq, a huge preference was seen between the influential Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and a coalition headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's Dawa Party.

"The democracy is everywhere in Iraq today," said Lt. Dirar Muhammad.

"Any person that eligible to vote, despite his actual profession or living condition, had a chance to chose their candidates.

"Security is guaranteed in all poling stations and people are leaving after voting with the sureness of safety never seen in their eyes before."

Iraqi authorities have sealed borders, shut down airports and imposed transport bans and night-time curfews as part of a massive security lockdown for the polls.

The provincial elections are part of a US-backed plan to reconcile rival groups, particularly Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the last round in 2005.

The poll results are also expected to set the national mood before the general elections, scheduled later in the year.

Jubilant Iraqis

Many voters hope that the provincial election will bring their country up from years of sectarian strife and strengthen its fledgling democracy.

"Four years ago we stayed in our home scared that on our way to the station we could be killed," Kassim Abid, 52, said as he cast ballot in a Baghdad polling station.

"But today I woke up in early morning, made my pray thanking God for the opportunity and went with my family to give our participation on our country's future.

"I never felt so good. The sensation of democracy could be touched and after years of imposed government, we could today choose the ones we thrust to represent us.

"I know it is a temporary illusion but it is nice to feel that Iraq is moving forward and not backwards.

Six policemen and a civilian were injured Saturday in a bombing in the mainly Shiite Turkmen town of Tuz Khurmatu north of Baghdad.

Four flash bombs also exploded near several polling centers in the Sunni Arab town of Tikrit, the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein, with no casualties.

But this did not discourage Iraqis from casting their ballot.

"Voters are showing pleasure in having their fingers stained with the blue-violet ink, while four years ago it was enough reason for people fear their lives," said Ahmed Moussa, a political analyst who was at one of Adhamiyah district's polling station.

"When you look at the polling stations voters, you find out the huge variety of gender, age, professions and sect. Soldiers, prisoners, housewives, teachers, students, all together in the same place looking for the same aim that is elect their representatives."

Voters were also expected to turn out in large numbers in areas where Sunnis largely boycotted the 2005 national elections.

"As much as Sunnis participate in this election, more probable of stability is expected in Iraq," said Samir Farhan, 41, father of two and resident of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

"Many fighter groups have understood the importance of this elections for the country's future.

"I believe that it isn't only that security is high in everyplace because it never was an excuse for resistance groups, but they also expect changes and are aware that a fair and clear election is the best way to show American troops that their time in this land is over."

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