Sunday, March 07, 2010

Iraqis defy terrorist violence to cast their votes

Today was the main day for voting in Iraq's national election (following early voting on Thursday for members of the security forces, doctors, and some other groups), and the polls have now closed.

Terrorist attacks aimed at disrupting the election appear to have been much less frequent than during the last national elections in 2005, when even Robert Fisk could not help being moved by the spectacle of millions of Iraqis risking their lives to vote:
Even as the explosions thundered over Baghdad, the people came in their hundreds and then in their thousands. Entire families, crippled old men supported by their sons, children beside them, babies in the arms of their mothers, sisters and aunts and cousins.

That is how the Shia Muslims of Baghdad voted yesterday. They walked quietly to the Martyr Mohamed Bakr Hakim School in Jadriya, without talking, through the car-less streets, the air pressure changing around them as mortars rained down on the US and British embassy compounds and the first of the day's suicide bombers immolated himself and his victims--most of them Shias--two miles away.

The Kurds voted, too, in their tens of thousands, but the Sunnis--20 per cent of Iraq's population, whose insurgency was the principal reason for this election [JW: that last bit was bullshit, of course]--boycotted or were intimidated from the polling stations. [....]
But there has nevertheless been a fair amount of violence during the past few days, and today there were bombings, mortar attacks, and the like in a number of major cities across the country.

Th0se efforts to disrupt the 2010 election seem to have failed--this time in Sunni Arab areas, too--and perhaps even backfired. The following comes from one of the reports in the New York Times Live-Blogging Election Day website, but I've seen similar reports from other sources, too.
Marc Santora reports from Baghdad: An hour after the polls closed, reports from election observers and other Western advisers spread throughout the country are starting to show what might be several significant trends.

In the places where there was violence, particularly Baghdad, the attacks seemed to have depressed early turnout. But, according to Western officials, election observers reported that in the afternoon once-empty polling stations were jammed with defiant voters.

“The bombings scared people off initially,” said one Western official briefed on the reports of election observers. “But then came the call of many of Iraq’s leading politicians and by afternoon, people were flooding back into the polling station.”

The officials asked not to be quoted by name because the reports are anecdotal and Iraq’s election officials will hold a press conference tonight to provide an official accounting of the day’s events.

What was striking, the Western official said, was how the bombings seemed to have spurred voters to go to the polls.

“The bombings, it seems, provoked the people to vote,” the official said. [....]
If true, this is interesting and potentially significant.

--Jeff Weintraub