With mix of hope, doubt, Iraqis cast their ballots
BAGHDAD - Many Iraqi voters expressed the hope that yesterday's mostly free and peaceful provincial elections will mean a further easing of violence and corruption in the country.
Haidar Mahmoud, 40, an unemployed resident of Basra, said he voted for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's slate "because if it weren't for him, there would still be killing in the streets of Basra."
"The most important thing for me is for the next council to fight corruption," said Sattar Jabar, 35, a baker in Baghdad. "Corruption is everywhere. You only have to walk the streets of the city to see it.
Some voters said they felt no pressure to vote for particular candidates, while others said they looked to religious leaders for guidance.
"I have come here hoping to have a better future by voting for people who I think are capable of helping the Iraqi people. . . . I made my choice of my own free will," said Hazim Khazim, 24, a laborer in Baghdad.
Makiya Jadou, 55, a mother of 10 in Basra, said she came to the polls because Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani told his followers that it was their religious duty to vote. "I wouldn't have otherwise," Jadou said. "I want a country based on the teachings of our religious scholars and faith."
"Wasting my vote would have been prohibited by religion," said Jalal Jamil Mohammad, 20, a first-time voter in Baghdad.
The mood of voters varied from cautious optimism to skepticism. "I hope these elections will be honest and bring efficient people to power," said Ali Abdullah, 35, a taxi driver in Baghdad.
"These are the people we need now - people who represent everyone in Iraq and have no sectarian tendencies. I'm hoping that after this election, we have a council in Baghdad that will improve services," said Ziad Abdul-Karim, 44, a civil servant in Baghdad.
But Nahla Abdul-Karim, a widow in Baghdad, said, "We had a bitter experience with those elected last time, and the new ones won't be any different."
Different regions of Iraq had different political themes.
In Mosul, an urban stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups, Sunni Arab voters said they wanted to counter ambitions by the Kurdish autonomous region to extend their influence over the city.
"I came to take back my city for Sunnis," said Afifa Abdul-Nafaa, 81, who arrived to vote in a wheelchair.
In the western Anbar province, very few voters turned out for elections four years ago. But yesterday, leaders of the Sunni tribes that rose up against insurgents sought to transform their new recognition into council seats.
Zakiya Tahir, 71 pointed to a poster of a local candidate "I have nothing to do with politics. I just want to feel safe again."