As the conflict in Iraq continues, U.S. News has dispatched Pentagon correspondent Julian E. Barnes for a frontline view. Barnes, who has periodically reported from Iraq since the war began in 2003, is blogging his impressions for usnews.com.
On election day, a few wrenches
The election in Mosul went smoothly, but there were some voting difficulties due to rules imposed by the Iraqis and Americansas well as some basic misunderstandings of how democracy worked.
One election official estimated that as many as 25 percent of voters were turned away from the first polling sites they tried. In previous elections, voters could go to any polling site in their city. But in this election, voters had to cast ballots in their home precinct. Unfortunately for many voters, according to American military officials, that rule was not announced until after the restrictions on vehicular traffic went into effect on Tuesday, a policy that stranded some Iraqis far away from their official voting districts.
Khadder Hussein, an election official stationed at the Al-Shimaa Girls Secondary School, said he also had to tell people they could not vote in absentia for the rest of their family. "They come here with their family's ID cards, and they want to vote for all their family members," said Hussein, speaking through a translator. "They are lazy, and they are not sure exactly how elections work."
Still, there were ways around the one-person, one-vote rule. At least one man appeared to cast two ballots at the Al-Shimaa school. After filling out his own ballot, he took his wife's and filled that out as well.
The east side of Mosul is almost entirely Sunni. And while some voters said they had voted in the two previous elections, others said it was their first ballot.
"This was my first time voting," said Nashwan Hanna, a doctor and assistant professor at Mosul's college of medicine who came to the polling site with his 3-year-old son, Salam. "I think it is safer to go out now and vote freely. Mosul was very dangerous before. But now I can bring my son and come out."
Like many voters at the site, Hanna said he was casting his ballot for Ayad Allawi. Many of the Sunnis in Mosul seem dead set against the federalism of the new constitution, arguing that it will drive an even deeper wedge between the religious sects and ethnic groups. They argue that the factionalism in Iraq that has erupted since the 2003 American invasion threatens to drive apart the country. Although Allawi is a Shiite, he appeals to the Sunnis in Mosul because he has been driving home a message of bringing Iraq together and making it more secure. The Arab Sunnis in Mosul interpret that as a signal that Allawi will resist calls for more Kurdish autonomy in the north and more Shiite autonomy in the south. They also like the fact he is secular.
"Allawi will take Iraq in a democratic direction," Hanna said. "He is not religious, and in the Iraq of the future there is no need for religious parties."
Though Hanna, who spoke fluent English, said he favored a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, other working-class voters said they wanted a much quicker withdrawal. "We need the new government to ask the Americans to leave," said Hassan Ali, a worker who was voting for the first time because he just turned 18.
Whalid Ibrahim Khalil, a mechanic in Mosul, said through a translator that he didn't think there was much doubt there would be a speedy American withdrawal.
"Of course the Americans are going to go home; they want to leave," he said. Khalil said he too was voting for Allawi, though he struggled to articulate exactly why, other than peer pressure. "Most people here are voting for Allawi."
Soldiers' prep work for safe polling
In Mosul, the Americans took a slightly more hands-on approach to the election security than the military advertised. The day before the election, American infantry platoons visited polling sites and surveyed the security barriers that had been emplaced.
GIs gave the Iraqi police remedial lessons on how to string concertina wire and distributed metal detectors to the officers. Where they saw gaps in the defenses, they urged the police to string more wire or position officers. At other sites, they sat down with police and army officials and reviewed what their planned response would be to different kinds of threats and attacks.
Election day in Mosul began with a bomb attack that killed an Iraqi guard and wounded an Iraqi police officer on the eastern half of the city. Because those attacks were in Kurdish neighborhoods, American military officials speculated they were placed by Sunni nationalists and aimed at keeping down the Kurdish vote.
But besides the early-morning bombings, the security held throughout the city on election day. Col. Ali Al-Ajeal, a local police chief in a section of western Mosul, said there was some disagreement between Iraqi police and army officials about who would escort the ballots to the election commission. But he said there was cooperation when it came to polling site security.
"It was an excellent election," he said. "We had no problems. We worked hard with the election officials."
Iraqi police searched people at least three times before they entered the polling site. And at least at the single polling site reporters were allowed to visit in Mosul, there were several dozen election workers and police. While the Iraqis guarded the polls, American armored vehicles patrolled the roads. Still, there was not much to do. The Americans stopped a few ambulances because of a report that there was a fake ambulance on the road. They also stopped a donkey being led down the street by a group of children. A search of the donkey's pouches turned up only vegetables.
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