A young girl waiting at a polling station in Kurdistan
Thanks to Stafford for sending this in to the NCF.
High Sunni Turnout Suggests a Deal for an Election Day Truce
By KIRK SEMPLE and QAIS MIZHER
RAMADI, Iraq, Dec. 15
The main boulevard that runs through this defiant Sunni Arab town and insurgent redoubt is a corridor of dread. Its bullet-ravaged buildings harbor snipers and its potholes conceal homemade bombs. American troops travel it at high speed only, darting from base to base.
On Thursday, however, children taking advantage of an election day prohibition against vehicles came out of their homes and made the street their own. By noon, several pickup games of soccer were under way along a half-mile stretch that runs through the densely populated western neighborhoods. The children were barefoot and they marked the goal posts with piles of their shoes.
For election day, at least, this town was significantly changed. Shedding 11 months of political isolation, thousands of residents poured into polling stations and cast votes. In contrast, voter turnout in the election in January was near zero.
Several polling stations needed emergency shipments of ballots because they had exhausted their initial allotments, each numbering in the thousands, electoral and military officials said. The manager of a polling station in Jazeera, a neighborhood in the northern outskirts of greater Ramadi, said he was losing control of a crowd that had gathered there to vote, officials said.
Insurgent activity, a defining feature of Ramadi, was limited to a roadside bomb that detonated near an Iraqi tank in the morning, causing no damage or casualties, the American military reported. By comparison, the first several hours of voting in the constitutional referendum in October was plagued by attacks around the city.
The near total absence of violence in Ramadi, where some local tribal and religious authorities are thought to have close ties to the insurgency, suggested that someone somewhere had struck a deal. "There was probably some negotiated truce for the day," said Maj. Dan Wagner, a Marine civil affairs officer working in the western part of the town.
Local leaders may be starting to push away from the insurgency in favor of political solutions. They have held a series of meetings with the American and Iraqi command in recent weeks, primarily seeking a quick withdrawal of American troops. But politics here remain extremely murky at best, and most of the population still shares a fierce resentment of the American presence and a deep mistrust of the Shiite-dominated government.
Several voters said they went to the polls primarily to redress the lack of political representation that resulted from a Sunni Arab boycott of the elections in January for an interim Parliament.
"I'm so happy!" exclaimed Mahmood Muhammad Hussein, 25, a student at the local agricultural college, as he voted at El Imam al-Adel Elementary School in western Ramadi. "I feel I lost all my rights last time, and now I'll have all my rights restored through this government."
Under a special arrangement approved by national electoral officials, tribal chiefs assumed the responsibility for security at polling centers, replacing American and Iraqi government troops with locally hired armed guards. Residents had said that the heavy involvement of American and Iraqi troops in the referendum process in October had intimidated many voters from going to the polls.
Following the agreement, American troops stayed out of sight, mostly remaining on their bases. Even Iraqi Army presence in the streets was light. El Imam al-Adel Elementary School was guarded by only a few private security guards carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Several voters said the security arrangements had, indeed, created a safer environment for voting.
"As you know, we're under the people's protection," said Jelal Faisal, 50, a civil engineer, who visited the school to cast his vote. "Maybe if there were military forces, we'd have some problems. But now we are O.K."
Major Wagner said he expected the insurgency to reawaken by the weekend. "There's going to be a lot of attacks in the next few days, no doubt about it," he warned. "We're not out of the woods."
But he and other officials drew hope from the fact that the community leaders had demonstrated a willingness to take part in the democratic process, even if there was little certainty about whether that cooperation would continue, and under what terms.