Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Early Voting in Iraq Is Mostly Smooth

New York Times reporting from Baghdad. Kind of funny how the Times claimed two years ago the war was a dismal failure- and all of a sudden there are completely peaceful national democratic elections with better monitoring than in American elections. By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS and STEVEN LEE MYERS BAGHDAD — Thousands of soldiers, police officers, hospital patients and prisoners cast ballots on Wednesday as part of early voting in Iraq’s provincial elections. At least one act of violence accompanied the voting. Two police officers guarding a polling center south of Kirkuk were killed by gunmen who fired at them from a passing car, according to an official from the Ministry of Interior who spoke on condition of anonymity. The gunmen escaped, the official said. Overall, however, the voting appeared to go smoothly, Iraqi election officials said. About 615,000 people, most of them employed by Iraq’s security forces, were eligible to vote Wednesday, three days before Saturday’s election. Government officials said the early balloting would help ensure that security forces would be on duty to protect polling stations on Saturday, when about 14 million more Iraqis are eligible to vote. “The arrangements we are seeing today are a slap in the face to those who are betting that Iraqis will not go to the ballot box because they are despairing,” Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said in a speech on Wednesday. More than 14,000 candidates are running for 440 seats on provincial councils in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The election will be delayed in Kirkuk Province, a troubled region where much of Iraq’s oil reserves lie, and in the three provinces of Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region. The local councils function much like state legislatures, but are also responsible for selecting governors and provincial police chiefs. Perhaps most important, the councils are a prime source of patronage. They dole out government jobs, social benefits and contracts, each an invaluable asset in a country that has high unemployment rates and significant poverty — but that is expected to embark on a major government-sponsored rebuilding program over the next few years. In Iraq, unaccustomed to democratic exercises, the line between the official and the political is often blurred. Some members of the Iraqi police found themselves in a quandary because the man to whom they owe their allegiance — Jawad al-Bolani, the minister of the interior — is running candidates against those aligned with the prime minister. “It is so confusing,” said Haider Raheem, a 32-year-old policeman in Hilla, a city south of Baghdad. In the Karrada district of Baghdad, soldiers and police streamed steadily into the Furat (or Euphrates) Middle School, a worn, dusty building where posters encouraged voting: “Register. Vote. Make the Change.” By late afternoon, more than half of the 4,000 people eligible to vote early at the school had done so, said Adel Jabbar, a 38-year-old poll monitor. Above the doorways to each room that had been set aside for voting, signs were hung forbidding cell phones, cameras, smoking and weapons. Mr. Jabbar reported no problems. But in Samarra, Zaher Jasmin, a local manager for Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, said fewer than half of the 4,000 police officers he had expected to cast ballots Wednesday had done so an hour before polls closed. After talking with their higher-ups, he said that the officers’ work had been deemed more important than voting. “They have duties in very far away and dangerous places,” he said, “and they have not received permission to leave their posts to vote.”

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