MOSUL - Election day in Iraq's violence-prone, third-largest city Mosul ended
as it began, with a spate of bomb attacks. But in between a fair number of people
Iraqi and U.S. troops remained on high alert Monday after returning to their
units. But authorities were looking back on a relatively successful vote.
Mosul, a Sunni-dominated city in the Kurdish north, has been one of the most
violence-hit cities since U.S. forces drove militants out of Fallujah in November.
The security forces had expected a difficult election day, and it was. But astonishingly
to some, large numbers of voters turned up anyway to cast their ballots in this
crucial first national election since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi forces presented the face of new Iraq at the polling stations. U.S. troops
who provide the backbone of the security forces kept a low profile. But the
moment the last voters had left the heavily fortified polling stations situated
in dilapidated high schools, police stations, and post offices, U.S. forces
resumed their role of big brother to the fledgling new Iraqi army.
At the Jana'in secondary school in the Hay al-Tahrir quarter, one of the city's
40 polling stations, U.S. soldiers in their box-like, heavily armored Stryker
vehicles rolled in to escort the ballot boxes and apprehensive election officials
to the vote counting center in Mosul. Safar Jamil, who headed the elections
team at the site, came bounding out of the school's metal gates once the voting
was done. "This was a great day," he said. Relief was written on his
face, and it spoke in his voice. "So many people came to vote even though
they were frightened." He paused and then gave voice to his own fears.
"And no bombs went off here. It was a good day."
That was so at his polling station, but at many places, militants who oppose
the Iraqi authorities and their American backers did what they could to disrupt
Early in the morning three billowing clouds of black smoke could be seen against
the gray winter sky from Hay al-Tahrir. Explosions shook the city all day, providing
a powerful argument for people not to go and vote. The explosions came either
from attacks, or they were controlled explosions of discovered devices. In Hay
al-Tahrir, a mainly Sunni Arab neighborhood with a large Kurdish presence, Sheikh
Munir Khadr from the local mosque and his wife were the first to vote. This
could have been a signal to the rest of the people.
In a show of respect to widespread concerns, his wife was not searched, just
checked with a metal detector. And Khadr was not intimidated by the militants'
threats. "Just look around you," he said, pointing at all the soldiers
and special police forces that had secured the building. "Finally, something
is being done about security."
Voting is a "national duty," said the Sunni sheikh. Like many other
people on election day, he was hoping for one outcome to the vote above all
others. "I hope that after this the city will be safer."
In Mosul as in many other parts of the country, people were asked to cast two
ballots, one for the national parliament and one for the local authorities.
In Kurdistan, people also voted for the autonomous region's own parliament.
Most voters in Mosul expect more from the national vote than from their local
governor. "Our problems are too big to be solved here," a voter said.
"We need the situation to improve in the whole country before things get
People had traveled miles to vote at Hay al-Tahrir. Majid Saleh and his three
brothers came from a village outside Mosul. They had to walk because all traffic
was prohibited from two days before the voting until the day after.
The brothers belong to a Shia tribe, and like the Kurds who were oppressed
by the Sunni minority under Saddam Hussein and before him, they were eager to
vote and cement the changes in the country. Their spiritual leader Ayatollah
Ali al-Sistani has been a firm champion of the election.
"Al-Sistani worked very hard to have these elections," said Saleh.
"So it was our duty to come and vote for a democratic, free, and above
all united Iraq."
The Salehs were not from the district, but anybody could vote anywhere in Mosul.
Polling stations did not have lists of voters because the city was considered
too dangerous for a voter registration drive. All that was required was an Iraqi
"We match the picture on the card to the voter, and if it is the same
person we let them vote," said Safar Jamil. Many of the cards carried faded
or unclear pictures, and many were taken when the voters were much younger.
Such matters were hardly obstacles.
Officials seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the elections. "We all suffered
under Saddam Hussein," said one. "This is a new beginning."
All the election officials came from outside Mosul for security reasons, so
that the militants would not mark them for their "cooperation with the
Of the 12 election officials, 11 were Christian and one was Yezidi (an old
Kurdish religious group). It was an indication how difficult it was to get reliable
people from among the local population who would not be intimidated by threats
to them and their families.
Because of the danger, the officials received by Iraqi standards a very generous
sum of $500 for five days' work.
As the election drew to a close, even the security forces relaxed a little.
Some admitted they had been pleasantly surprised.. "I thought nobody would
show up under these circumstances but they did," a lieutenant said. "This
was a real election after all."
(Inter Press Service)