Nomads Rally to Sistani Call

Because of their lifestyle it’s been hard for them to follow the electoral campaign – but nomads say that won’t stop them voting.

Nomads Rally to Sistani Call

Because of their lifestyle it’s been hard for them to follow the electoral campaign – but nomads say that won’t stop them voting.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

Nomad Dalil Hasan knows how difficult it can be to make a living off the rugged countryside in southern Iraq. The elderly Shia man breeds sheep and camels in the Hadania area, a rocky region where grass is scarce because of a recent drought.

Although the nearest polling place is dozens of kilometres away, Hasan says he and his fellow nomads will make the trip to vote in the January 30 election.

"We will go to vote to respond to the call of [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-] Sistani and we must take part in these elections to vote for the clerics who will provide for us what we need," said Hasan, referring to a call by Iraq’s most prominent Shia cleric.

On January 30, voters will cast their ballots for a 275-member national assembly, charged with writing a new constitution and appointing a new government. They will also choose provincial councils and Kurdish voters will select 111 members of their regional assembly.

During the rule of Saddam Hussein, the nomads living near Samawah were largely spared the worst of the political decisions issued from Baghdad. Their nomadic lifestyle prevented them from serving in the Iraqi military or attending public schools.

Nonetheless, they say they are now eager to take part in Iraq’s first democratic election since the Fifties. But information about the election is especially scarce in these desolate grazing areas near the Saudi border.

"It is true that we don't know whom to vote for, but people in al-Salman city say that the list number 169 is the list which Mr Sistani asks people to vote for and we are behind Mr Sistani in what he says,” said Hasan, resting in his camel’s hair tent.

Nomad Salaf Hassan hopes a new government will work to erase the reminders Iraq’s painful past. Shia like Hassan make up 60 per cent of Iraq’s population, yet they have historically been ruled by the country’s minority Sunnis. Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, brutally repressed the Shia during his rule.

“We are keen to take part in the elections so that we can elect a government that can provide us with what we need and compensate for the years of persecution and killings that the former regime committed against us," said Hassan, his 40-year-old face already showing signs of a life of hardship and poverty.

Hassan’s neighbour Saliah al-Ziadi, a sheep breeder, says he hopes for a better quality of life after the election.

"We will take part in the election as there may be a government following the elections that can provide us with our rights and help us provide fodder and water which we need," said al-Ziadi.

While Sunnis in central Iraq threaten to boycott the ballot, Sunni nomads in this region see the vote in a different way. Goat herder Khitab Zwaid says it is important to vote because these elections ultimately will determine the destiny of Iraq.

"We will take part in the elections to elect the government that will represent us so that that government can ask the American forces to leave the country," he said.

Hussein Ali al-Yasiry is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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