Newspaper article International New York Times

Under Extensive Security, Iraqis Turn out to Vote

Newspaper article International New York Times

Under Extensive Security, Iraqis Turn out to Vote

Article excerpt

The story on Wednesday was simply that the election was held, and that few people were killed.

Millions of Iraqis voted for a new Parliament this week, defying threats from Islamist extremists, in an election that was carried out, by the country's brutal standards, in remarkable peace.

After a surge in violence leading up to the vote Wednesday, and threats by a Sunni extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, to strike polling sites, no attacks were reported in Baghdad, and none with any large numbers of casualties were reported elsewhere in the country.

The election, the first nationwide vote since the departure of American troops more than two years ago, was seen as a referendum on Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's eight years as prime minister as he sought a third term amid a growing Sunni insurgency that had brought the country to the edge of a new civil war. With the results pending, the story on Wednesday was simply that the election was held, and that few people were killed.

Iraqis voted amid extraordinary security. Last weekend, the government announced a weeklong national holiday to ensure that most people stayed home from work, allowing the security forces to prepare in the streets. As Election Day approached, the authorities announced a curfew in Baghdad, which went into effect on Tuesday night and prohibited most traffic, forcing Iraqis to walk to polling centers. Even the airport was closed for a few days.

Despite the threats, the turnout for the vote was 60 percent, according to Iraq's electoral commission, just below the percentage of eligible voters who participated in the last national election, in 2010.

"We have the power to make change, inshallah," said a voter, Emad Ibrahim, using a common Arabic expression that means "God willing."

Paralyzed from a bombing five years ago, he arrived to vote in a wheelchair. "Iraq needs construction," he said. "Every day people die in Iraq, and it is time to stop this."

Noting his war injuries, he said, "Now I will take my revenge over the terrorists by having the chance to vote for a better Iraq."

Some attacks were carried out north of Baghdad. In one, in a town near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, a police officer pounced on a suicide bomber as he approached a polling center. The officer was killed, and two civilians also died, but his action saved the lives of many others. In the same area, a roadside bomb exploded near a polling center, killing two police officers. And in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, two civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.

All in all, Election Day or otherwise, that amounted to a quiet day in Iraq.

In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the police officer who impeded the suicide bomber and said, "Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress and sow discord in Iraq and throughout the region. …

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