Sunday, January 30, 2005

E-Day, part 2 

10.05pm Brisbane time: and 3.05pm Baghdad time - not too long to go. The latest reports put the death toll at 28. There have been several suicide bombings (on foot, as cars are banned in vicinity of polling stations) and some mortar attacks - but overall, far from the bloodiest day of recent times (and far cry from Al Zarqawi's threats to make the streets run red with the blood of voters). Level of violence doesn't seem at the first glance to be significantly bigger than average.

Nice quote:
"Asked if reports of better-than-expected turnout in areas where Sunni and Shiite Muslims live together indicated that a Sunni cleric boycott effort had failed, one of the main groups pushing the boycott seemed subdued.

" 'The association’s call for a boycott of the election was not a fatwa (religious edict), but only a statement,' said Association of Muslim Scholars spokesman Omar Ragheb. 'It was never a question of something religiously prohibited or permitted. We never sought to force anyone to boycott'."
Let the spin begin.

9.45pm: The "Australian": "The opposing fortunes of Iraq two main Muslim groups - Sunni and Shiite - were hightlighted by today's landmark election. Polling stations were mainly deserted and bomb blasts rocked former insurgent strongholds in the Sunni Triangle such as Samarra and Mosul, north of Baghdad, where US and Iraqi troops with tanks were on the streets... In the Shiite towns in southern Iraq, the population savoured their expected rising, queuing outside polling stations in favour of their main party and their spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani."

Talking of "the Sunnis" in the context of the vote is a big generalisation, of course. The Sunnis of Iraq are not a monolith, and arguably could be divided into four different groups, each with its own attitude towards the election: 1) moderate, anti-terror Sunnis who are actually voting; 2) Sunnis who want to vote but by virtue of their residence in terrorist strongholds are too intimiadted to; 3) Sunnis who have done the math and couldn't be bothered to vote because whatever happens, on January 31 they will not be in control of the country; and 4) Sunnis who ran, or directly or indirectly benefitted under, Saddam's regime and are therefore hostile to any changes that see them lose their previous status.

Kudos to group 1. Pity about group 2. Group 3 is a natural part of any democracy; there are always people who feel, for whatever reason, that their vote won't count and therefore participating in an election is a waste of time. As for group 4 - screw them; I can't imagine anyone complaining that Nazi sympathisers chose not to take part in Germany's first post-war election, or that KKK members felt themselves underrepresented after the civil rights reforms of 1964. So when the pundits complain about the low Sunni turnout, the only real problem is group 2.

8.05pm: Iraqi Election Wire is hanging it up for the night but will resume soon (hey, it's almost dawn in America!). Elsewhere, Christopher has got a nice round-up of pre-election commentary.

7.35pm: BBC correspondents report blog-style from around the country. Ben Brown from Basra: "Turnout here has been extraordinary. We've been to a few polling stations in the city centre and we've seen huge queues of men and women who were searched separately. Some have had to wait for an hour before casting their ballot." Geez, sounds like the '04 election all over again.

7.15pm : Reuters: "Some smile, some are stoic and others keep their faces hidden as Iraqis trickle to the polls, braving anti-U.S. insurgents determined to drown the historic vote in blood." Hey, the insurgents are trying to bomb Iraqi polling stations and kill Iraqis who want to vote - how about starting to call them anti-Iraqi insurgents? The rest of the article is pretty positive though.

7pm: Just as for so many the act of liberation of twenty four million people from under a tyrant has been overshadowed by their hatred of President Bush, so for many in the media, today's election in Iraq will be "overshadowed" either by the violence, the Sunni boycott, or by the "massive" security measures. Sadly, this is yet another case of failing to see the grove for the palm trees (to adapt an old saying). Not surprisingly, we are unlikely to see a report from Iraq which would say: "Today, terrorist violence has been overshadowed by millions of ordinary Iraqi men and women going to the polls to elect Iraq's first legitimate government in half a century." I guess that's why we have blogs. Update: Fox comes pretty close: "Iraqis are lining up to vote in the country's first open elections in more than 50 years despite a string of terror attacks. Officials said the first two hours of voting — which passed without an outrageous amount of bloodshed or violence — would set the tone for the day." Also notable for the consistent use of the term "homicide bomber."

5:40pm From a sometime Chrenkoff correspondent, Haider Ajina:
"I just called my father in Baghdad to see if he and the rest of my Iraqi family over there have voted yet. He said we were all just heading out the door, but we will wait and talk to you (chuckling). I heard a strength and joy in his voice and could hear the rest of my relatives in the back ground. It sounded like a family reunion. My 84 year old Iraqi Grandmother will be voting for the first time in her life. My father (a naturalized U.S. Citizen) said we are all getting ready to go vote in a school near by. This school was just being built when I left Iraq in the late 70's. I know where it is and I can picture my father, uncles aunties and cousins along with the rest of the family walking through my old neighborhood to that school and vote. My father said 'For the first time in my life I voted in the U.S. and now I can vote in Iraq. We want our voices to count, we want to decide our future and we want the world to know we have a voice in our future and in our government, this will give the Iraqi government true legitimacy, just like in America'.

"I can now dream of the day when I can take my family to meet my extended family and the places were I played and grew up. They will also see what our men and women in our military fought for.

"To all the men and women who have served and serving in Iraq, to all the families of those who have paid the ultimate price to all those who have suffered during their service in Iraq, my family’s and my deepest thanks, gratitude and pride both from the U.S. and Iraq for all the sacrifices, endurance and service for our great country and Iraq and the Iraqis. God bless all of you and keep you safe."
And from a reader Brad Morgan:
"On December 1st my youngest son turned 21 as a US Marine on his second tour in Iraq. On New Year's day he lost both legs and the vision in his right eye to a land mine there.

"I won't pretend that he did this for the Iraqi people. He volunteered and sacrificed for America and its people.

"But a big part of this whole thing is also recognizing that we are protecting America and the entire world by bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq and its people, with the hope that this will also bring the same to the entire region.

"As a father, I am both devastated by my son's loss and the handicaps he will face for the rest of his life and I am incredibly proud of him for what he has done.

"My prayers go out to the people of Iraq and for your future. I want that future to be wonderful --for your own sake and because I don't want my son's sacrifice to have been in vain.

"My son's legs and blood will forever rest in Iraqi soil. I think that gives me the right to say a a few things."


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