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Iraq election: Iraqis defy bombs to vote

Some of the polling stations in the Iraq election emptied during the morning’s attacks, but after encouragement from several political leaders, voting seemed to pick up again in the afternoon.

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By midday about half of approximately 3,000 registered voters had cast their ballots before a lunchtime lull, officials at one polling station told a UN team providing support for the elections.

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'Waiting for change'

“All of them are expecting and waiting for a change, that is the most important thing,” said Jerzy Skuratowicz, the deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, during a previous stop west of Baghdad in Anbar Province.

Unemployment is estimated at over 50 percent among young people in Anbar Province – a majority Sunni province that was the center of the insurgency early in the war.

In Anbar and other places, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group imposed a curfew on voting day to try to intimidate voters from going to the polls.

Mosques in Fallujah, however, broadcast appeals telling people it was their duty to go to vote.

In the village of Jabal on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Ramadi, a steady stream of families arrived at the polling site. Some came in on crutches.

One group of women said they had voted for the Iraqi Islamic Party in 2005 but this time were voting for Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who heads the Al Iraqiya Coalition and the main challenger to Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

Tired of sectarian politics

Sunni Arabs had widely boycotted the first elections for a transitional government in 2005, when, in Anbar Province, the turnout was less than 2 percent. Although they came out in greater numbers for parliamentary elections that year, they have had a disproportionately weak representation in the Shiite-dominated government. This election is seen as a chance to bring to power a more representative and more efficient government.

“We want to change our politics once and for all,” said Jumah Khalaf, an election official at the polling site. “The politicians we elect should not be sectarian – not ‘this man is from the south and this man is from the north and this one from Anbar’. No – we are all Iraqis.”

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