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

Next Door to a Polling Station

In the Kurdish area, people are not as scared as those in the rest of Iraq when they find out they have a polling station as a neighbour.
By Rebaz Mahmood

Paiman Ezzadin says she's proud to be living near a polling station. She's now looking forward to doing her bit to help make election day a success.

“I think it's as though I'd arrested a terrorist,” said Ezzadin.

Her opinion is a rare one in Iraq, where dozens of polling sites have been attacked by insurgents in week leading up to the landmark elections.

Many of the polling sites in Iraq are schools, located in residential communities. The threat of attacks in their neighborhoods has caused many people to pack up and move away for the election period.

But in Ezzadin lives in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq. Here the situation is starkly different.

The three Kurdish-administered provinces have enjoyed relative security, thanks to the presence of 60,000 battle-hardened Kurdish militiamen known as peshmerga.

The Kurds have governed themselves since escaping Saddam Hussein’s control after the 1991 Gulf War. The region is administered by a government made up of the two main Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. They have formed a joint list for the Iraqi National Assembly election to maximise Kurdish power at the national level, although they will be running separately in the regional elections.

Part of the reason for the election enthusiasm in Sulaimaniyah is what is now at stake for the Kurds. Iraq’s Shia majority is expected to sweep the polls, but the Kurds, who make up about 20 per cent of the population, are also expected to make a strong showing. That could help them press for their long-hoped for greater autonomy to be written into Iraq’s new constitution.

Dler Muhammed Said, director of a polling station located at the Bayan school, said the neighbours have been an encouragement to his team as they prepare for the elections.

On the eve of the elections, Sulaimaniyah resident Bahe Kareem brought a flask of hot tea and a message over to the security forces guarding the polling station near her home.

“God bless you! If you want anything, just tell us and it will be ready in a minute,” she told them.

Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.