Election hailed a success despite deaths
March 8, 2010 · Posted in NEWS
BAGHDAD: Despite continued and widespread attacks across the country, Iraq’s electoral commission is estimating a higher voter turnout in Sunday’s poll than in 2005, when 79 per cent of registered voters participated, and the election is being widely hailed as a success.

Officials were particularly encouraged by the high turnout in Iraq’s Sunni-dominated areas, where voters largely stayed away from the polls in 2005.

Ignoring concerted bombardments in Iraq’s major cities, voters turned out in force on Sunday to choose a new government that will face the task of steering Iraq through next year’s planned withdrawal of the United States military.

”You know that Iraqis do not get scared,” said the former prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

”They will not be scared by tanks, bombings and explosions. They fought the British, as it is known, with simple weapons and kicked out the British Empire. So this intimidation will not work.”

Qassem Sayyid, 35, the owner of a gift shop in central Baghdad, said the election was a sign that ”our country is starting to move forward very slowly”.

”This election will show that we are ready to make the right decisions for our future.”

After more than 100 reported explosions across Baghdad in the first five hours after the polls opened at 7am, there were fears that a majority of voters might stay indoors.

At least 38 people were killed and many more injured in the attacks, where dozens of mortar shells and rockets were launched at targets across the city. About 25 people were killed when a rocket slammed into an apartment building in the north of the city, causing the building to collapse.

Six explosions were reported within the heavily fortified Green Zone where most government ministries and foreign embassies are located.

”Nothing would have stopped me from voting today,” said Ali Ibrahim, 43, after he cast his ballot early in the morning. ”I voted for [Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki because he knows how to keep the country secure. Democracy means a freedom to me that we never thought was possible under Saddam.”

The mortar fire in Baghdad subsided after noon when US military helicopters took to the air, and with a strict curfew in place keeping most cars from the road, there were few reports of disruption of voters at polling stations.

Clear results are not expected to emerge until the end of the week, but both major coalitions, the ruling State of Law Party led by Mr Maliki, and the main secular Iraqiya coalition led by Mr Allawi, were claiming to have performed strongly.

This would suggest a strong shift towards more secularly oriented political parties in the new 325-member National Assembly, and a weakening of support for the larger Islamic blocs.

According to Mr Maliki’s supporters, State of Law was on track to win a majority of votes in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and other largely Shiite provinces in the south.

Mr Allawi’s camp was claiming that their coalition was the best performer in strong Sunni areas in Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala provinces.

The main Shiite coalition, known as the Iraqi National Alliance, whose key leaders include Ammar al-Hakim, former prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the anti-American cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, is still expected to play a key role in deciding the final shape of the next governing coalition, which could still take months to be finalised.

In Washington, the US President, Barack Obama, praised the result. ”I have great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by acts of violence and who exercised their right to vote today,” he said in a prepared statement