Millions of Iraqis, from tribal sheiks to families with children, turned out Thursday to choose a parliament in a mostly peaceful election - among the freest ever in the Arab world. So many Sunni Arabs voted that ballots ran out in some places.In pictures.
[S]cattered incidents did little to discourage Iraqis, some of whom turned out wrapped in their flag on a bright, sunny day. Afterward, many displayed a purple ink-stained index finger - a mark to guard against multiple voting.
One jubilant Shiite voter in Baghdad proudly displayed all 10 of his fingers stained with ink.
In Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, streets were transformed into a big playground, with children playing games and turning roads into soccer fields.
Chiman Saleh, a Kurdish housewife in Kirkuk, said election day made her think of her two brothers killed by Saddam's security forces in the 1980s.
"This is day is revenge for Saddam,'' she said. "This is one of the times that Iraqis are free to choose their candidates.''
A new standard:
[I]f predictions are correct, more than 70 per cent of Iraq’s 15.5 million eligible voters will cast their ballots, selecting 275 representatives in Parliament from more than 7,000 candidates. That would far exceed the turnout in most Western democracies, including Britain and America.Proud:
Yesterday there was a party atmosphere in Baghdad. A ban on motor vehicles, to prevent the threat of car bombs, meant that normally busy thoroughfares were colonised by young men playing football. Elderly couples strolled in the warm winter sunshine. The sounds of gunfire and low-flying helicopters were replaced by birdsong and children’s laughter.
In interviews with at least 30 Iraqis, most were acutely aware of the importance of their country's first permanent representative government. They all hoped it would signal the end of the violence and permit the withdrawal of foreign forces. The younger voters in particular were amazingly opinionated about the party leaders and manifestos. They were more politically aware than most of their American and British contemporaries, including those in uniform in Iraq helping to provide security for today’s vote.
Despite the killing of one candidate and a few campaign workers, today's election will set a new standard in the Arab world - and the sight of millions of Iraqis freely exercising their democratic rights will be broadcast live from Libya to Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The vote will be more democratic than this year's presidential and parliamentary races in Egypt, where the ruling party never fully loosened its grip on power. It will be fairer than the Palestinian parliamentary race, postponed after fears that the Islamic parties would do well. It should reflect more accurately the will of Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups, unlike the confused result in this year's Lebanese election.
The diversity of opinion in Iraq is extraordinary in a society where only three years ago Iraqis "voted" by 90 per cent to extend Saddam Hussein's rule. Back then any Iraqi questioned by a foreign journalist would dutifully parrot support for the dictator.
Iraqis today laugh at the memory...
"I am proud as an Iraqi because our country is becoming a center of attraction for all Arab countries," said Mohammed Wadi, a 50-year-old Shiite schoolteacher casting his ballot in the capital's Karada district.A national celebration:
"The new situation in Iraq, the democratic system, is starting to put pressure on the Arab systems to make some changes toward democracy."
"This is our day of victory, they will not drive us back to our homes, this is the end of terrorism," said Safia Mohammed, one Shiite voter reacting to one of the periodic explosions in the capital.A better life for our children:
"It's a national celebration for all Iraqis," declared President Jalal Talabani, the country's first Kurdish head of state.
"This is a day of freedom for us," Selima Khalif said, an elderly woman voting in the poor southern province of Maysan.
"We are so happy. The most important thing we need is security. We want our children to get a better life."