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March 07, 2010

Iraqis Vote: Return Of The Purple Fingers

Lots of focus on the violence but the real story is that none of it stopped the people of Iraq from having a voice in how their country is run.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said voter turnout was "high if not higher" than expected, according to Reuters. Expectations prior to the national election were approximately 50 percent voter turnout.

...In Azamiyah, Walid Abid, a 40-year-old father of two, was speaking as mortars landed several hundreds yards away.

"I am not scared and I am not going to stay put at home. Until when? We need to change things. If I stay home and not come to vote, Azamiyah will get worse," he said.

About 6,200 candidates are competing for 325 seats in the new parliament, Iraq's second for a full term of parliament since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion seven years ago this month.

It's been said many times because it's true, democracy is a process not an event. Today's vote is part of that process. There's still going to be tensions as parties negotiate to put together a governing coalition and concerns how legitimate that government will be in the eyes of Iraqis who supported other candidates.

I've linked to this before but I think today is a good day to revisit David Bellavia's piece which includes his remembrances of the first vote in Iraq.

As they came to line up earlier that morning, the men thanked us and clasped their hands over their heads, striking a triumphant pose. Some of the women cried. The kids were on their best behavior.

The gunfire began that afternoon. Insurgents started to shoot them. My unit ran to the road and formed a protective position between the killers and the citizens going to the polls. As we scanned the palm grove in front of us, bullets cracked and whined, then mortars start thumping around us. My squad pushed into the palm grove. I stayed on the road, overseeing their movement and coordinating the heavy fire from the Bradleys.

The firefight ebbs. The mortar fire ceases. A few last stray rounds streak past. A cry from behind causes me to turn. Lying in the road is a young Iraqi woman. I run over to help. She’s caught a round just below her temple. Her stunning beauty has been ruined forever.

She cries, “Paper! Paper” over and over until the ambulance arrives to take her away. An old lady emerges from the schoolhouse-turned voting site, sheets of blue paper in hand. She gives one to the wounded girl, who clutches it to her like a prized possession even as the ambulance carries her away.

The ballot was her voice. All she wanted was a chance to exercise it, just once, before she died.

The old woman returns to the school house, but drops another ballot along the way. It drifts in a gentle breeze across the bloodstained asphalt. I stoop down and pick it up. It is all in Arabic, and I have no idea what each set of candidates advocate. That’s not my place, and it doesn’t really matter. I helped make this day happen. This ballot represents the reason why we’re here, why my friends had to die.

Carefully, I fold the ballot up and put it in my pocket. Even though I was 29 at the time , I’d only voted once.

I had taken something so precious for granted for far too long.

If you told people 7-8 years ago that Iraq would be holding it's 3rd nationwide set of elections, run and secured for the most part by Iraqis, a lot of people would have thought you were insane. Problems and all, Iraq is an emerging democracy in a part of the world where there wasn't much reason to believe it would take hold. The Iraqi people, the men and women of the US military and yes, George W. Bush, deserve a lot of credit for today's vote.


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posted by DrewM. at 06:26 PM

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