Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Baghdadi Voters Defy Extremists

Attacks against polling stations appear to have failed to deter much of the capital’s electorate.
By Dhya Rasan

Voter turnout was high in the capital on election day, despite a spate of suicide bomber and mortar attacks on polling stations that left 19 Iraqis dead.


Iraqis are voting for a 275-member transitional National Assembly, which is charged with drafting a constitution. “The elections are a democratic experience,” said Samir Muhammed, one of the many Baghdadis who defied the militants. “I don’t care which list wins because as a result, we will all win our freedom.”


Initial reports from the Independent Electoral Commission put voter turnout across the country at over 70 per cent. Some election workers began counting votes in Baghdad at 5.30 pm local time, a half hour after the polls closed. Polls opened at 7 am.


“The counting process has been quite easy, especially when it comes to votes cast for the coalition lists,” said Qasim al-Janabi of the electoral commission office. “But we’ve encountered some problems with votes cast for individual parties,” he added, without elaborating. While many of the major Iraqi parties are standing for the National Assembly as part of broad coalition blocs, others have opted to go it alone.


In the Shia neighbourhood of al-Kadhimiyah, voters stood in line outside polling stations even though a mortar round targeting a nearby voting centre hit a tea warehouse instead.


“These explosions show the fear of the terrorists and their failure,” said Abdullah Mahmoud, who brought his family to the polling station in al-Bayaa. “We consider the gun shot to be [a sign of] happiness [referring to practice of firing guns in celebration] but to the terrorist, they are shots of death.”


Some Sunni areas in Baghdad reported a low turnout. In the neighbourhood of al-Aezamia, polling stations were deserted and there were clashes between gunmen and Iraqi security forces. A number of people living in the area said they didn’t vote because they were afraid to leave their homes.


“The security violations that took place prevented us from going out and reaching the polling station so we lost our right as citizens,” said Haider Talib, a local resident.


But there were reports of a high turnout in the Hay al-Amil neighbourhood, even though residents there heard explosions and gunfire, and there were lines of voters in the al-Talabiyyah area.


In the wealthy neighbourhood of al-Mansoor, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the al-Zahraa school polling station, killing three police officers and wounding several civilians.


Also in al-Mansoor, another suicide bomber struck in front of a cement barricade near the Maysaloon Intermediate School for Girls voting centre. The explosion killed a man, his wife and their child, as well as a police officer.


Meanwhile, in the Shia slum of Sadr City, four Iraqis were killed by mortar rounds targeting the al-Shaheed Husam Arif School polling station. Despite the violence, turnout still appeared to be high, according to an IWPR reporter at the scene.


In the Hai al-Amil neighborhood, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a polling station, killing an Iraqi journalist and wounding others, said Muhannad Jasim, a police officer at the scene.


He added that US forces prevented a vehicle laden with explosives from reaching the voting centre.


In the al-Khathra neighbourhood, a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a polling station, killing three police officers and wounding others.


There were other attacks on voting centers in the neighbourhoods of al-Utaifiyya, Hai Ur, al-Bayaa, al-Thura, and al-Risala al-Thania.


“We expected there would be attacks but not as accurate as these ones,” said police officer Ahmed Saeed, who was guarding a polling station in al-Bayaa. He said insurgents had mounted precision strikes.


Some of those assisting with election process were also targeted. Ahmed al-Musawi, who was helping handicapped people go to vote, told an IWPR reporter he was attacked by three masked men, who hit him in the head with a blunt object and stabbed him in the stomach with a knife.


After polling stations closed at 5 pm, gunmen open fired on Street 18, which is lined with schools that were all used as polling stations. US forces arrived on the scene and clashed with the insurgents, according to an IWPR reporter who witnessed the incident.


In the afternoon, a British military transport plane crashed just north of Baghdad. There was no immediate word on casualties or the cause of the crash.


Zaineb Naji, Dhya Rasan and Shawkat Saib are IWPR trainee journalists in Iraq.


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