Shiites defy gunmen in hope of freedom
But, writes Paul McGeough in Baghdad, it was only a personal threat of violence that motivated some people to go to the polls.
Many took courage and refused to bow to the gunmen. But in a city of many moods, others came to the polling stations only because of the gun at their backs.
Those “guns�? McGeough mentions; they aren’t exactly abundant throughout his report:
In the Shiite quarter Al-Salam City, Abdul Hussein Abbas, 54, a car dealer, said he was voting for List 169, the coalition of Shiite religious parties. “And then I’m going home to throw a party – we have sweets and chocolates to distribute in the street,” he said.
Guns, sweets … what’s the difference?
His Shiite neighbours – Satar Jabar, 37, a telecommunications worker, and Mouid Khalid al-Douri, 44, a taxi driver – also voted for the religious parties. Mr Douri declared: “This is a great day for the Shiites – to vote is to be free.”
What he really meant to say was: “Ouch! Gun in my back!�?
Despite all the threats and a mortar attack on a polling station that killed four voters, residents of the slums of Sadr City, a Saddam Hussein creation that is home to about 2 million Shiites, said that the turnout was “huge”.
He wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic without the business end of an AK-47 jemmed against his spine, I bet.
As a tribal sheik, 60-year-old Hamid Chiati is a big man. As a Shiite in the ghetto his home is a small house off a small street, but he was filled with the big idea that the Shiites were poised to claim a destiny that slipped through their fingers almost a century ago – control of Iraq.
“Yes, we still face explosions, kidnapping and killing. But already the new Iraq is better even when we don’t have bread.
“We don’t have water, but we are happy. Electricity – no. But we’re better off because under Saddam no one respected us – and today they do. That’s more important than bread or water or electricity.”
Or guns, apparently. Where are the guns?
Across town, “white flag” notices were going up in the Shiite mosques of Al-Salam City. Naming people who were Baathists, Shiite and Sunni, they threaten execution unless those named hung a white flag from their homes and voted in the elections.
P.Diddy’s influence is remarkable. Incidentally, according to McGeough, the number of “vote or die�? targets came to … 16.
The Iraqis, some of them anyway, have voted to elect people to then elect a Prime Minister and draw up a Constitution to put to the people at the end of the year. A few readers have asked me to dash off a comment piece on the election’s success.
For a start, we don’t yet know for sure what percentage of people voted and how many didn’t because the occupiers have not restored order. Offical assessments started at 80 percent and are now down to 60 percent. And we don’t know the results yet, of course, and whether the interim government will or won’t ask the occupiers to leave in accordance with the wishes of a substantial majority of Iraqis, according to the latest Zogby Poll. We also don’t know if the election was substantially free of corruption.
If Margo wrote about things she did know, her columns could fit on a baby’s fingernail. That’s all of her columns, written in longhand, using a paint roller.