Rival Blocs Campaign in South

Relative calm means people are ready to take part in the election, and parties and blocs now have to compete for their vote.

Rival Blocs Campaign in South

Relative calm means people are ready to take part in the election, and parties and blocs now have to compete for their vote.

The Basra branch of the Iraqi Communist Party kicked off its election campaign with a parade complete with loudspeakers and banners bearing the party's campaign slogans.

Dozens of cars decorated with red banners drove slowly along al-Saadi street in this southern city. The party's slogan – "Free homeland - happy people!" – was heard blaring from loudhailers rigged up on the cars, as party activitsts handed out posters to bystanders.

Communist Party representative Rahman Muhsin predicted a high turnout in the city because of the relatively stable security situation.

The January 23 march came a day before the authorities promised tough security measures to prevent election day in Basra being marred by violence.

Basra provincial governor Hassan Kadim al-Rashid announced a curfew from 10 pm to 6 am, starting from January 25 and ending only after election day, January 30. Cars will not be allowed to travel around the province, and civilians will not be allowed to carry weapons, even if they have permits to do so.

Police and national guardsmen will mount patrols and man checkpoints in Basra, as well as providing security at polling stations, while the Coalition military will patrol roads outside urban areas, the governor said. Similar measures are being put in place across Iraq.

In Basra and other towns in southern Iraq, many people are eager to vote – and they are presented with a choice for the first time in decades.

In Nassriyah, north-west of Basra, the streets are plastered with election campaign posters. Some people here said they would be choosing the People's Union List as that is the one the Communists are part of, and the party has a strong association with the town.

Jijan Hadi, a 55-year-old teacher, is backing the People's Union List as he considers that its members have a long track-record and are now the best hope for Iraqis.

Like many here, he is also a staunch supporter of the broader principles behind this election, "The elections are necessary and are very important for Iraq at this stage, which may be considered a critical turning point."

Electrician Nas Kamal Ali, 40, is equally committed to the need for a ballot, but he is making a different choice: the Iraqi National Alliance list, which brings together the leading Shia political groupings.

Rafid Kazhim, 30, a taxi driver in Nassriyah, is still undecided about whether he will vote, but if he does he will be going for a third option – the Iraqi List, the coalition led by interim prime minister Ayad Allawi.

"I can see the power and firmness embodied in Allawi, who is the only one able to get rid of the chaos and instability all over the country," said Kazhim.

Safaal Mansoor and Meethaq Fadhil are IWPR trainee journalists in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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