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

Can They Cut off Eight Million Fingers?”

Insurgents shoot off voters’ ink-stained fingers in Baaqubah.
By Aqil Jabbar

Masked gunmen in the northeastern town of Baaqubah shot off the fingers of at least four Shia voters after they went to the polls in Iraq’s historic elections.


After the polling stations had closed at 5 pm on January, the insurgents set up makeshift checkpoints around the city to look for people marked with indelible ink on their index finger – a sign that they had voted.


Najm al-Firaiji, a 21-year-old student, told IWPR how he was targeted standing with a friend outside his house in the al-Suwamra neighborhood in the city’s New Baaqubah area, about two and a half hours after polls closed.


Four masked men approached and asked whether anyone in the neighbourhood had gone out to vote.


Al-Firaiji’s friend ran off, and the student told the man he didn’t think anyone had been to the polls.


But then one of the men pointed a pistol at his head and told him to show them his finger. It bore the telltale purple ink stain, and one of the gunmen shot it off.


“I hadn’t intended to vote but my friends persuaded me, saying there was a possibility that things would get better,” said al-Firaiji.


“Will they be able to cut off the fingers of eight million people?”


Iraq’s electoral commission estimates that eight million out of the 14 million people eligible to vote – about 60 per cent - cast a ballot on election day.


Al-Firaju and three other victims of similar attacks were treated in Baaqubah’s hospital.


Despite explosions and attacks on polling stations in Baaqubah, which lies about 65 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, and the rest of Diyala governorate, turnout here was high at around the national average, an election official in the province told IWPR.


Most were Kurds or Shia Arabs, the official said.


“I am 66 years old and this is the first time I’ve voted, said a beaming Hadi Abdul Hussein.


Attacks continued after polls closed in Baaqubah.


Militants open fired on election workers and security officials transporting ballot boxes from a polling station located at the al-Batra primary school. Iraqi police reportedly fled the scene, but United States troops moved in and managed to stop the insurgents stealing the boxes.


Aqil Jabbar is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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