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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Middle East reacts to Iraqi Elections

Coverage of the Historic Iraqi elections from around the Middle East:

Israel

Iraqi Jew goes to vote
Jerusalem Post

Khugi's parents left Baghdad in 1950 as children and he grew up with all their memories and their longings.

For many Iraqi Jews, their departure from Iraq is not solved, said Khugi. "Many of them really miss the country. They see their departure as something against their desires. They speak about it in terms of tearing themselves from their homeland like tearing a piece of cloth.

"I heard beautiful stories and sorrow and I wanted to touch it in a way, as much as I could," he told the Jerusalem Post.

When Khugi showed up at one of the eight polling stations in Amman, the first thing he did was identify himself as an Israeli and show the all-Iraqi polling staff his Israeli passport. "At first they were surprised," said Khugi. "The 'head staffer' told me, "We're not used to this. It's new to us." Nevertheless, said Khugi, the staff was very friendly to him.


Bush calls Iraqi election 'a resounding success'
Ha'aretz (via Reuters)

Voters, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, cast ballots in higher-than-expected numbers in Iraq's first multi-party election in half a century.

Samir Hassan, 32, who lost his leg in a car bomb blast last year, said as he waited to vote in Baghdad: "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me."

-snip-

Voters formed long queues in Shi'ite areas and the Kurdish north, where officials said turnout was highest. Many chanted and clapped. Some had walked for miles.

"This is a wedding for all Iraqis. I congratulate all Iraqis on their newfound freedom," said Jaida Hamza, dressed in a black Islamic robe, in the Shi'ite shrine city of Najaf.

Even in Falluja, the battle-scarred Sunni city that was a militant stronghold until a U.S. assault in November, a slow stream of people turned out, confounding expectations.


Qatar

Confusion Surrounds Iraq Poll Turnout
Al Jazeera

Mishan al-Jibury, a Sunni candidate from Mosul, said lower turnout in the Sunni areas was due to lack of security and functioning polling stations as well as calls for a boycott from Sunni groups hostile to the US military presence.

"The lack of preparations in the north is hurting my party,"  Jibury said, adding that he hoped flaws in the process would not repeat themselves in Iraq's next vote - an October referendum on the constitution to be drafted by the assembly.

"I can honestly say that this has been in general a fair and landmark dress rehearsal for democracy," he said.

Speaking to Aljazeera from the northern city of Mosul, Mustafa Ibrahim, an independent Iraqi journalist, said the turnout in Mosul had been "fair" despite some problems.

"There was a fair attendance compared to the expectations of many in the city.

"In general, the election held in Mosul was a surprise to all as the number of voters was more than expected when considering the daily messages and posters threatening voters with death if they went to polling stations," Ibrahim added.


Avid Shiites, Apathetic Sunnis Divided on Elections
Islam Online

In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, mothers carrying babies and blind men helped by relatives were among thousands who rushed to cast their ballots.

"I insisted on coming despite my handicap because voting is a religious duty according to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani," Jawwad Shkeir, a 56-year-old blind man, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Eighty-year-old Mahdeya Saleh, covered from head to toe in a black chador robe, was beaming with pride at being part of the Iraq's first democratic elections in 50 years.

"I was often forced to vote under (the ousted regime) of Saddam Hussein. Today I came freely to choose the candidate of my choice. This is the first and last time in my life," to vote, she said.

Waiting outside a voting centre in the southern city of Nasiriyah, Latif Hassan praised the elections "a foundation for a new Iraq." At one polling center in Baquba, Ali Abdul Sattar, a Shiite, also described the polls in religious lines.

"This election is just like Noah's Ark -- whoever is on board will survive and those outside will perish."

-snip-

However, the mood was grim in the Sunni heartland.

Many polling stations in Sunnis cities and districts looked deserted with few, if any, turning up in the first two hours of voting.

"There is a poor turnout in our polling stations in Al-Adhamiya secondary school," Tarke Yasser, who boycotted the elections, told IslamOnline.net.

"It is expected because leading Sunni powers and parties have decided to boycott the vote."

The Association of Muslim Scholars, the highest Sunni religious authority in Iraq, championed the call for election boycott. The Islamic Party of Iraq, the main Sunni political party, had quit the election race also over aggravating insecurity.


London (well, more Middle Eastern by the day)

Iraqis vote amid mounting attacks
Middle East Online

At least 37 people were killed and dozens wounded Sunday as suicide bombers and insurgents hit voting centres on Iraq's first free election in half-a-century.

Insurgents bent on disrupting the elections sent out bombers to wreak mayhem at polling centres around Baghdad but despite the intimidation factor, people still came out to vote, particularly in Shiite areas.

The group of Iraq's most wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for suicide attacks against polling stations, according to an Internet statement.

The interior ministry said 30 civilians and six police died in attacks during Iraq's election and 96 people - 83 civilians and 13 police - had been injured.

A US soldier was also killed in action Sunday. The toll did not include suicide bombers who died carrying out attacks.

In the deadliest strike of the day, a suicide bomber struck outside a polling centre in eastern Baghdad, killing seven civilians and two policemen, an interior ministry source said, the second such attack in the capital on election day.


Jordan

Election day in Iraq: At least 44 dead;
Turnout around 60%

Al Bawabwa

Iraqis voted Sunday as deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes hit voters and polling stations across Iraq. At least 44 people were killed, including attackers and policemen.

Casting his vote, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called , "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny." The country's mostly ceremonial president, Ghazi al-Yawer, said it was Iraq's first step "toward joining the free world."

"I'm very proud and happy this morning," al-Yawer told reporters. "I congratulate all the Iraqi people and call them to vote for Iraq."

On his part, President Bush declared the vote a success. "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," he said, hailing Iraqis for rejecting "the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs."

Officials said turnout among the 14 million eligible voters appeared to be around 60 percent, although it would be some time before any turnout figure was confirmed. However, the polls at first were deserted in mostly Sunni cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra around Baghdad, and in the Sunni northern city of Mosul.


Saudi Arabia

Editorial: Challenge of Elections
Arab News

Whatever happens today in Iraq, there can be no doubt that it is a very historic moment in the country's long history. Iraqis must make two choices. The first is whether they should vote at all and the second, if they do decide to vote, is who they should vote for from the list of some 200 different political parties.

There are many circumstances which, it can reasonably be argued, make this election less than ideal. Many candidates who fear for their safety have not campaigned publicly and some have even refused to put their names on the ballot; votes will be cast for them by using numbers. This is, however, less of a problem than it may at first seem; the election is being conducted under a proportional representation system which means that the 275 seats of the Transitional Assembly will be allotted according to each party's performance.

-snip-

Nevertheless the very fact that the election is being held, despite all predictions is a defeat for the terrorists and a much needed victory for moderation. The inevitable Shiite majority of legislators must next use their success wisely to plan the future for all Iraqis, regardless of their community. In so doing, they will inflict an even more significant defeat on the men of violence.


Oman

Voters defy insurgents

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is expected to play lead role in the next government, hailed the election for a 275-member assembly to draw up a new constitution and lay the groundwork for a post-Saddam future.

"This is the start of a new era, for the first time, Iraqis are deciding on their own future and defying the terrorist forces," he declared.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's representative in Iraq described the election as "transparent and fair" and also highlighted the high turnout.


United Arab Emirates

Iraq election begins
Gulf News (via Reuters)

Iraq's first multiparty polls in half a century began at dawn today, elections intended to unite the country but which could instead foment sectarian strife and which insurgents have vowed to turn into a bloodbath.

A suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi security checkpoint protecting a polling station in west Baghdad shortly after voting began, killing a policeman, police sources said.

They said two Iraqi soldiers and two civilians were wounded in the attack near the Zahraa school, used as a voting centre.


Iraqis defy deadly attacks to vote in force
in watershed election

Khaleej Times

BAGHDAD - Iraqis turned out in force on Sunday in the first free elections in half a century, defying insurgents who unleashed a wave of suicide and mortar attacks across the country that killed at least 37 people.

Rebels wearing belts packed with explosives targeted polling stations and even the home of a minister to try to wreck the election being held almost two years after former dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in a US-led war.

But with a massive security clampdown nationwide, the Iraqi election commission said preliminary figures indicated 72 percent of the 14 million registered voters had turned out even three hours before polls closed.

The majority Shia community and Kurds concentrated in the north had been predicted to vote in high numbers in the ethnically-divided country in what is one of the most dangerous and controversial elections of modern times.

But the election commission said even among Sunni Arabs who were the ruling elite under Saddam and all previous Iraqi governments turnout was higher than expected despite boycott calls from leading clerics and politicians.


Lebanon

Iraqis defy violence to cast historic vote
The Daily Star

Millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election on Sunday, defying insurgents who killed at least 30 people in a bloody assault on the poll. U.S. President George W. Bush congratulated the people of Iraq on "this great and historic achievement" but cautioned that more hard work lay ahead to turn the nation into a democracy. Despite a massive security clampdown, rebels wearing belts packed with explosives targeted polling stations and even the home of a minister to try to wreck the election that took Iraq a further step away from the legacy of Saddam.


Iran

Iraqis vote for defenders of their rights: Hakim
Mehr News

BAGHDAD, Jan. 30 (MNA) -- Abdel Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said here on Sunday that the Iraqi people voted for those who attempt to defend their rights.

Talking to the Mehr News Agency correspondent in Baghdad before the polling stations were closed the SCIRI leader said: "The process of elections has been positive and the majority of the Iraqi nation will expectedly turn out in the polls."

The Iraqis expect their representatives to avoid surrendering or bowing to any power, he said, adding the elected representatives should be able to meet the will of the Iraqi nation.


Iraqi voters stream to polls
Tehran Times

Iraq's interim Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari said on Sunday that the holding of elections in Iraq, regardless of the results, was a great success.

In an exclusive interview with our correspondent in Baghdad, Jaafari described the election climate as very positive.

He said Iraq has been able to take the first step toward building a "new Iraq" and materialize the hopes of the people for the establishment of a real and efficient government.

"All the Iraqi people including Muslims, non-Muslims, and all different ethnic groups have contributed to this process and we have no doubt whoever wins the election will act based on the national interests and will establish the best relations with the neighbors especially Iran," the Iraqi vice president added.

Whoever takes over the government would set the pullout of the U.S. forces from Iraq on the top of his agenda, the leader of the Hezb al-Dawa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Call Party) noted.

Iraqi interim Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati also said on Sunday that the long-established political parties that have a history of resistance

against the former Baath regime have a better chance for victory in the Iraqi general election.

The election is proceeding smoothly, al-Bayati told MNA correspondent, adding that this was a great opportunity for the Iraqi nation to vote and directly determine their destiny after 35 years of dictatorship.


Iraqis flock to polling centers
IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting)

Baghdad, Jan 30 - Iraq's Shiite majority and Kurds flocked to polling centres on Sunday and even Sunni brethren ventured out to vote despite the deadly violence overshadowing the first free elections in half a century.

In Sunni areas rife with death threats , a good number decided it was worth gambling their lives, rather than risk not having a voice in the post-Saddam Hussein era.

"These elections are a foundation for a new Iraq," said Latif Hassan as he waited outside a voting centre in the southern city of Nasiriyah.


High turnout for vote in Najaf
IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting)

During the former dictator's reign, the majority Shiite community in Iraq was oppressed, under-developed and left to stagnate.

In a clear bid to change all that, queues of voters began forming outside polling centers in the southern city of Najaf from the minute the stations opened at 0400 GMT.

Within hours, thousands of Iraqi Shiites went to cast their ballots as police cars criss-crossed the holy city, with loudspeakers mounted on their vehicles, urging citizens "to vote and accomplish your national duty".


Powerline has an Iraqi blog roundup here.



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