Thursday, December 15, 2005

AP update:

Iraqis voted Thursday in one of the largest and freest elections in the Arab world, with strong turnout reported in Sunni areas and even a shortage of ballots in some precincts. Several explosions rocked Baghdad throughout the day, but the level of violence was low. The heavy participation in the parliamentary voting by the Sunnis, who had shunned balloting last January, bolstered U.S. hopes of calming the insurgency enough to begin withdrawing its troops next year. But much depends on whether the sides, after the votes are counted, can form a government to reconcile Iraq's various communities, or merely fan the current tensions. Officials were forced to extend voting for one hour, until 6 p.m. (10 a.m. EST) as long lines were reported in some precincts, which election commission spokesman Farid Ayar called a sign that the balloting "was successful and turnout was good." Results will be announced within two weeks. [...]

Despite their ethnic and religious differences, most Iraqis who voted Thursday agreed that what they need most from the future government is security and stability. Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, all said they need better than the misery they are living. "The first thing we want from the new government is security," Hussein Ali Abbas, 66, said as he voted at Baghdad city hall. "We also want the good for the Iraqis. We are surviving but it is a struggle." The insurgency has killed thousands and wounded many others the past 30 months. Car bombs and suicide attacks have spread fear by targeting mosques, churches, police stations, religious pilgrims and funerals. Theft and kidnapping for ransom also are common. Tens of thousands of well-off Iraqis have moved away, mainly going to neighboring Syria and Jordan to give their families a normal life. Those who cannot afford to go are reluctant to venture from home. After sunset, this city of about 6 million people turns into a ghost town. Few Iraqis want Saddam Hussein to return to power, but many miss the heavy-handed security during a 24-year dictatorship that made Iraq's streets some of the safest in the world. They are worn down by violence that President Bush this week estimated has caused about 30,000 deaths since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. [...]

Iraqis Rewarded for Patience at the Polls. Trodding along streets emptied of traffic, Iraqis swarmed to polling stations Thursday, lined up patiently to be searched, pored over long paper ballots with dozens and dozens of candidate lists and then cast their votes for a permanent legislature. Men emerged from one polling site in the capital's Sadr City neighborhood jubilantly waving hands with fingers stained with indelible purple ink to prevent multiple voting. [...]

Mariam al-Rayes still remembers the words of a skeptical colleague at law school. "You cannot work as a lawyer because people do not trust women lawyers," he told her many years ago. Since then, al-Rayes has successfully practiced law and gone on to become one of nearly 90 women in Iraq's current 275-member parliament, dominated by a coalition of Shiite religious parties to which she belongs. And she was hoping to keep her spot in the legislature, campaigning in Thursday's elections, but this time on a different ticket. Some women's rights activists argue that female legislators have little to show for their time in parliament. Harsher critics even accuse them of helping pass a constitution that the critics say undermines women's rights. [...]