High Turnout in Baghdad Points to Early Success
After a slow start, voters turned out in very large numbers in Baghdad today, packing polling places and creating a party atmosphere in the streets, which were closed to traffic but full of children playing soccer, and men and women, some carrying babies. After eight hours of voting, with two to go, American officials were showing confidence that today was going to be a big success, although they were still wary of the possibility of major attacks by insurgents.
In the Karada district of central Baghdad, everyone, it seemed, was walking to the polls, where they lined up to vote 50 people deep. They dropped their ballots into boxes even as continuous mortar shells started exploding at about noon, without reports of major casualties, and despite two suicide bombings in Baghdad that killed up to six people. There were news agency reports from other parts of the country that 29 people were killed in attacks on polling stations. There was some confusion at one Karada polling station, but in the main it was very orderly and very smooth, with very tight security.
If the insurgents wanted to stop people from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and although there was never the sense that the insurgency was over, there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned a corner. The atmosphere in this usually grim capital, a city at war and an ethnic microcosm of the country, had changed, with people dressed in their finest clothes to go to the polls in what was generally a convivial mood. “You can feel the enthusiasm,” Col. Mike Murray of the First Cavalry Regiment, said outside a polling station in Karada, who added that the scene in Karada was essentially true for the whole area. In Khadamiya, a mixed area in northwest Baghdad, the turnout was also large, with some representatives of political parties saying the turnout could approach 80 percent.
Even in the so-called Sunni Triangle people voted, too. In Baquba, 60 miles north of Baghdad, all the polling stations that reported indicated a huge turnout. In Mosul, the restive city to the north, large turnouts were reported, even in the Sunni Muslim areas. There was discontent among Kurds, however, because of a failure to deliver election boxes. They asked for a 24-hour extension of the election, but officials said that was not possible.
In Ramadi, only six people had voted after seven hours at a polling station on the south side of the Euphrates River across from the town. Many people were apparently intimidated at crossing the bridge over the river, because potential voters would make themselves highly visible.
Given the months of violence and intimidation designed to drive down turnout, this is stunning indeed. I expected that there would be a decent turnout, but nothing like this.