Thursday, December 15, 2005

We got our purple fingers!`(Updated)

10:30 am Baghdad time (Also available on Pajamas Media).
*This post will be updated many times, so keep refreshing and scrolling!

We have noticed on our way to the polling station that the streets are much quieter this time than they were back in January.
Of course we did hear a few explosions, probably RPG or mortar fire but nothing compared to the attacks we had last time in number or size….so far at least.

The deployment of Iraqi security forces on the streets was heavy with a noticeable absence of American forces except for their presence in the skies; there are many Apache helicopters and jet fighters as well as small surveillance planes al over Baghdad.

The number of voting officials, independent observers and political bodies’ representatives is higher than what we saw in January.
From what we saw, people feel safer walking to the voting centers this time; many of them were carrying Iraqi flags.

There are no cars moving on the streets except for those of the police and army and of course there are children, lots of them playing soccer on the empty streets.

Also, tearing posters seems to have been taking place everywhere last night!

We have no numbers on turnout levels so far but from what I saw, there was a decent turnout in my neighborhood.

In a press conference, the IECI has announced that there are no reports as of now about any direct attacks on voting centers and that a number of lists have been fined for not committing to the exact date and time of “electoral silence”. The names of these lists will be announced later this evening.
The IECI has also revealed several measures for preventing election fraud; first of all any ballot box that comes with a suspiciously high result (90%) for any single particular list or candidate will be reconsidered and will be subject to further checking.

According to the IECI there are certain codes unique to each ballot box and to the locks used to seal the boxes. So any box that carries a wrong code will be discarded.

Some journalists complained from not being allowed to enter some of the centers and the IECI promised to solve this problem.

More updates will come to you soon from Baghdad and eight Iraqi provinces, so keep checking here and on Pajamas Media for the exclusive coverage!

The first report from Kurdistan:

From our correspondent W.Z in Erbil, for Pajamas Media:

The carnival of elections has begun in Erbil under strict security measures; the Peshmerga, police and “Asayesh” security corps are doing a great job in providing a safe environment for the voters.
Voters flocked to the polling stations to democratically elect a four-year government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.
In center #24 in downtown Erbil I have talked to a number of voters after they cast their ballots and most of whom said they gave their votes to list 730 the Kurdish alliance.
Mr. Kamal Serwan expressed his happiness with the process and said “I voted 730 because it is the list that grants us a federal Iraq and protects our rights…”

Mrs. Norhan Mahmoud also voted for the same list and commented “I voted for them because they will preserve the unity of Iraq and serve the ambitions of our people…”

12:00 pm from Baghdad by Mohammed for ITM and Pajamas.

The ministers of interior and defense said in a joint press conference a few minutes ago that the Iraqi security forces are at high alert and are doing a great job so far and pointed out that there have been no major security incident till this moment and they announced that a truck loaded with explosives and munitions was captured an hour ago while trying to enter Baghdad.

The defense minister Dr. Sa’doon al-Dulaimi said that Anbar is currently stable to the degree that it is ready for the election.
Both ministers stressed that keeping security is the responsibility of the government’s security institutes and that “militias must not be allowed to interfere with the government’s duties”.
When asked about the poisoned-water rumors that spread last night in Baghdad, the interior minister said that such rumors are aiming at destabilizing the situation on the elections eve and he mentioned that “the main water plants are very well protected by an entire brigade in addition to an armored company”.

The minister also discredited the reports about a truck loaded with forged ballot papers entering Iraq from Iran “This is a mere rumor, bring the driver or show the truck if it is true! This report is illogical”.

The defense minister who isn’t running for office in this election refused to reveal to whom he gave his vote because “this particular ministry is for all Iraqis and politics must not affect the attitude or performance of the military institute”.

First report from Kirkuk, by our correspondent O.R from Pajamas Media:

The voting process began at 7 am sharp, and under strict security measures.
The turnout levels during the first few hours were lower than those back in January but in general, it is still higher in the Kurdish parts of the province than in the Turkmen or Arab regions.
It is worth mentioning that the IECI has agreed to allow 200,000 newly registered Kurds to vote in Kirkuk in a controversial step.

For some unknown reason, the IECI authority in Kirkuk limited the press access to only 5 polling centers; two in the Turkmen region and one in each of the Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian regions of the city.
Until this hour, there are no reports on violations or incidents of violence or fraud.

First report from al-Muthanna/Samawa from our correspondent K.H for Pajamas Media:

The security forces in the province are doing great efforts to secure the elections here. We talked to Colonel Mohammed Najim from the city police who said:

“Our forces are all on high alert to protect the voters and the polling centers; we have also coordinated our efforts with other entities like the transportation, fire departments as well as with hospitals and towns’ councils to be prepared for any emergencies…more than 5,000 policemen established a security ring around the 153 polling centers spread around the province, so we have more than 20 men guarding each center”.

Voters headed to the polling centers early in the morning and the process is moving smoothly so far with no terror attacks or violence.

There were also numerous fixed and mobile patrols and checkpoints on the streets and some streets were closed with concrete block, however this hasn’t stopped the residents of Samawa from demonstrating against al-Jazeera TV in response to yesterday’s irritating show that directed harsh criticism to Ayatollah Sistani.

In general, the turnout is expected to be high in the province which is home to 315,000 registered voters.

A report from Babil from our correspondent A.T for Pajamas:

Starting from 7 am all the polling centers in Babylon opened their doors to receive the voters, the turnout was light in the first three hours but it increased after that in a good way.
The first voter was a disabled man, Jasim Hameed (65) he attended at 6:30 am and insisted on being the first one to vote.
When he put the paper in the box said "I'm here at this early hour to challenge the terrorists who want to kill the democratic process in Iraq and I want to encourage the healthy people to vote”.

On the other hand the spokesman of the IECI in Babylon the lawyer Kais al-Hasnawi stated that the Election Commission sealed and secured the last five boxes that belong to voting in hospitals and police stations that took place on Tuesday.
He also said that they faced a problem with about 1,500 people (doctors and policemen) who were out on duty and didn’t get the chance to vote elsewhere.

The spokesman of the police command in Babylon Captain Muthana Khalid stated that the security forces in Jurf al-Sakhar were able to arrest two brothers transporting 72 mines and IEDs and they confessed that they were about to plant them near and on the ways leading to the polling stations to prevent the people from voting.

On the other hand the Iraqi Army made a cordon-and-search operation based on intelligence reports of possible terror cells planning to attacks the voters on their way to the polling centers.

An update from Mosul from our correspondent N.R for Pajamas:

Officials from the IECI office in Mosul announced that turnout levels were as high as 80% of registered voters in many polling centers and this figure is expected to go even higher n the afternoon since that’s the time housewives find best for going out!

Voters in al-Ba’aj town near Mosul are facing a big problem trying to vote. It is known that vehicles are not allowed to move today and this small town is 10 km away from the nearest polling center.
Those people have contacted officials in the IECI and they hope they can find a solution for their problem, as polls will close in less than 3 hours.

A report from Babil from our correspondent A.T for Pajamas:

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad visited a voting center in the province today. He was accompanied by four congress members and the American consulate top official in the Iraqi south.

When asked by journalists why he chose to visit Babil his answer was “I chose Babil because of the good security in the city, here I feel I’m in good hands!”.

The Ambassador and the other guests congratulated the Iraqi people on this democratic step and they praised the efforts made by the local administration to bring security and stability to the province.

Senator Joeseph Baiden who accompanied the ambassador Khalilzad in his visit to Babil emphasized the importance of succes of democracy in Iraq and expressed his hope that the new parliament will be capable of enforcing law and stabilizing the country.

Our friend W.A was kind enough to send us this report from Baghdad:

Last night was really tough and long because we spent it under the pressure of the Arabic MSM terrifying the people and spreading Zarqawi threats that it would be a bloody day. On the other hand a rumor spread out in the middle of the night telling that the water is poisoned, well I guess the "antihuman" wanted to poison our election day.
Early in the morning the Iraqis flocked toward the polling centers not caring about some mortars that went down here and there, the kids kept on playing soccer in the empty streets, the mosques-Sunni and Shii-were calling and urging people to vote.

There was a little difference in the two calls; while the Sunni were calling the people to vote for the sake of Arab Nationalism the Shia mosques were calling to vote under the Fatwa of Sistani whom being fiercely attacked by al-Jazeera news channel and this made his Fatwa gain more voters.

Al-Haj Abo Mohammed al-Furaiji took all his family members that were eligible to vote and soon they all walked out from the polling center smiling and saying “we chose what we wanted”.

Shandookh Alwan Ibrahim, a disabled man on wheelchair and a father of three young men who were executed by Saddam said: “Our future is in our hands, today is the celebration day for the poor and I'm one of them and we need someone in charge who can shoulder the responsibility”

Muhaisin Bidairy Abdullah who was born in 1900 and I think he is the oldest amongst the voters came leaning on his grandsons and could hardly breathe with tears visible in his eyes…maybe because he won’t be able to attend the next elections.

Asla Hussein a 70 year old woman, who has 5 members of her family executed by Saddam, said we want the remaining members of our family to live in peace.

The encouraging thing I noticed was that security forces treated the voters well and didn’t interfere with the voting process.

A report from our correspondent in Basra A.D for Pajamas:

The residents of Basra rushed to the polling centers in great numbers from the early hours of the morning in spite of the thick fog that engulfed the city.
We were waiting at the gate of center #932 from 6:30 and it took us a long time to get inside because of the strict security checks.

The gate opened exactly at 7 and we were let in but we have learned that there were only certain centers where journalists were allowed to enter.
Anyway, the voting process is going on quietly and without complications and we noticed that there were too many representatives from various political parties observing the process and watching for any possible violations.
There was also strong presence for people from civil society organizations who monitored the procedures of sealing the boxes and recorded the serial numbers of the seals and stamps.

Dr. Mohammed Qasim, the manager of the center expects the turnout to be even higher in the afternoon and he highlighted the skills and good training of the officials working with him.

I have talked to a number of the voters who were glad to find the polling centers operate in a high level of organization and transparency.

The security forces are doing a fine job securing the areas around the 300 polling centers in Basra and there are no reports on incidents of interference with the voting and till now there are no reports on any terror attacks or electoral violations in Basra.
One can feel the good security situation when he sees people walking in masses down the streets flying Iraqi flags and chanting for democracy in Iraq.

More photos our correspondent in Erbil, W.Z for pajamas:

This time of people dancing and celebrating the vote!

From our correspondent in Kerbala, I.S for pajamas:

People rushed to the polling centers in Karbala since early morning and the first person who voted was a 53 woman who sells dairy products on a sidewalk.
She said: "I had to come early to be able to go back to my work I need to sell all this stuff you see" and she was referring to a tray full of cream and cheese she was holding!

Another citizen came early and he explained why he did so by saying: "I have a work shift in the hospital to catch up with …I’m a medical assistant".

Voters’ turnout began to increase after 9 am and in a simple survey I made among a number of them I found out that the competition is going on between two major lists the United Alliance, Allwai and a third smaller one called al-wala' Islamic party.
And in a previous meeting with an IECI official in Karbala he stated that the number of polling stations is 211 and they are ready to host 409000 voters.

An update from Erbil from our correspondent W.Z for Pajamas:

In a celebratory mood the voting process continues in Erbil the capital of Kurdistan. The people still flocking to the polling centers eagerly willing to vote and feeling extremely happy with the purple finger they get after voting calling it the ink of freedom and democracy and they felt very safe because of the security measures were taken by the security forces to secure the elections.

Many of the voters showed a good awareness by stating how important it is to participate in this elections because it will be they key factor to stability in the future Iraq and they hoped that the Kurdish Alliance will get a good number of seats in the coming parliament for they trust the Kurdish leadership for not being a "neither religious nor sectarian" one.

We met one of the officials in charge in one of the polling stations and asked him few questions about the voting process:
Q: how was your day in the polling center?
A: it really a distinguished day and we worked on setting order and providing security needed.
Q: how is the turnout in your station?
A: as you can see the turnout is very high and from what I hear from the voters themselves, most votes went to the Kurdish Alliance.
Q: did you face any problems or violations?
A: until now the process is going very smooth and the supervisors are doing their job very well in helping and guiding the people during the process.

Outside the station groups of young men and women were celebrating this big day turning it to a big festival hoping for a better tomorrow and a government that will eliminate all the obstacles preventing the country from progressing and having a better future.

Update from our correspondent in Basra, A.D for Pajamas:

More and more people are going to the polling centers and the turnout levels have exceeded 84% in some centers, for example in the center that lies in al-Khaleej district more than 2650 voters did vote as of 3 pm out of 3190 registered total voters for this particular center.
The overall turnout is estimated at around 75% in the province.

The process is taking place in a democratic and peaceful environment and there are apparently no pressures from political parties on the voters.

It has been noticed that some people who live far away from their designated voting centers had a problem in reaching those centers so they asked the officials in the local IECI office to allow them to vote in other near centers but they got no positive response till now because of the strict regulations of the IECI that do not allow people to vote in any place other than the ones they’re originally registered at.

Afternoon update from I.S from Kerbala for Pajamas:

Interview with the IECI staff:

The manager of one of the polling centers talked about his staff and said: "we have 34 people working with us; employees, supervisors and inspectors…" and answering my question about the representatives of the political bodies who want to monitor the process he replied: "we have only five stations in the center and each station can hold only four monitors so we had to make the monitors take turns on watching and monitoring"
Then he added "the voters this year are more aware of the process and some of them gave written notes to us about the violations they think have taken place in the center.
And in an interview with one of the representatives of one of the political bodies he mentioned that the staff of the IECI was very cooperative with the representatives and the voters and there were no violations in this particular center.

From Mohammed from Baghdad: BREAKING!

Mr. A’adil al-Lami, a chief official in the IECI announced a few minutes ago that voting time will be extended for another hour (till 6 pm) in every polling center where there are many people still standing in lines when the original closing time of 5 pm was reached.

Mr. Lami confirmed that there have been some major violations in Kirkuk but most of them taken care of and corrected.
No official figures on turnout till now but it is believed to be higher than that of January.

From our correspondent in Najaf, A.S for Pajamas:

*Sorry for the delay in presenting this report, the reporter had a hard time finding an internet connection!

From the early hours of this morning thousands of Najafi’s walked down the streets heading to the polls in a true carnival of practicing our democratic right.

We toured 10 polling centers and made a number of interviews with some of the voters in those polling centers.

Mr. Ali Hassoon al-Badri said “everyone must realize that electing our representatives is a basic right for everyone and it is not a gift from anyone and that it draws the line between freedom and tyranny…”

Mr. Haider Noor said “I believe we can’t afford to lose the right of voting and that’s why I came here today…”

We stopped by the Najaf office of the IECI to talk to Mrs. Bushra al-Zamili talked to us about their preparations and the progress of the election process:

“we tried our best to make this election succeed and I tell you that our techniques in counting and sorting out the ballots are better and more advanced this time…in Najaf we have 529,890 eligible voters who are casting their ballots in 254 centers. Until this moment we have not received any report on fraud or violations except for some parties manipulating the names on the badges we gave them but nothing major in general…”

We have also conducted a little survey near one of the polling centers; we distributed 70 forms and asked 70 voters to fill them out. Our questions were:

Who did you vote for? The results were:
46 for the UIA, 14 for Allawi, 8 for list#541 and one vote for each of the lists 696 and 835.

What made you vote for this list? The answers were:
47 for “they can improve security”, 11 for “ending the presence of foreign troops”, 6 for “social and religious values” and 6 for “improving security and reconstruction”.

What is the biggest problem facing Iraqis?

Almost all the answers mentioned security concerns.

What affected your vote?
The answers included personal opinion and religious beliefs.

70 people participated in the survey (46 males and 24 females) and their ages ranged from 18 to 75 and their education ranged from elementary school to master degrees.

Our correspondent in Mosul, N.R had this update for Pajamas:It was prepared shortly before the polls closed.

The governor of Mosul Mr. Draid Kashmola visited some of the polling stations in the province, and in his talking with some of the people he emphasized on participating in this process and that voting should not be based on sectarian or ethnic affiliations that didn’t present anything to the Iraqi people during the previous period adding that all the Iraqis are in "one boat" and they all have a common future. He went on with his speech by criticizing those who doubted our security forces ability to keep the stations safe from the terrorists.

On the other hand the representatives of some of the political bodies expressed their concerns about the fraud that might happen during counting the votes since they were not able to see any of the supervisors and they sent an emergency call to the NGOs’ working in Mosul to take part in this stage to make sure that the voting process will remain fraud-free.

One of the candidates on list #829 stated that he suspects that fraud had taken place in Mosul’s suburbs and added that he prefers not to talk about it now, while other people mentioned that elections in Mosul were clean and no fraud took place anywhere inside Mosul but they still think it is not impossible to happen.
Though it only minutes away from closing the boxes but still there are substantial numbers of people still coming to the stations and this success is due to the callings made by some clerics in Mosul urging the people to vote.
One of the managers said that since no attacks happened in Mosul urged the families to participate in a large way.

The IECI called for the media and the supervisors and the representatives of the political bodies to stay for the votes counting.
Mosul police command declared that they will provide cars to transport the people who live far from the polling stations and this gesture was highly appreciated by many of the people who benefited from this service.

From Mohammed of ITM/Baghdad:

The polls closed in all centers 90 minutes ago!
The IECI had a press conference half an hour ago that pretty much summarized today’s events. From watching this press conference and analyzing the reports we received today we can say that the following points represents the most important findings:

-Security was much better than last time in January and there were only a few minor incidents.

-It was clear that the IECI and its multi-thousand strong staff did a wonderful and exceptional job in such a hard time to make the election go in the best way possible.

-The Iraqi Army and police were successful in giving our people the opportunity to vote in a peaceful environment.

-The total registered voter-count was 1,000,000 higher than in January after adding Iraqi citizens who were born in 1987.

-15, 5 million+ Iraqis cast their votes in more than 30,000 station spread nationwide.

-All the assassinations and intimidation that preceded the election could not stop the process.

-There have been strict measures to make sure that all ballot boxes and station are in compliance with the standards of the IECI and now it’s their-IECI-duty to make sure that no boxes were replaced or manipulated.

-The presence of the press and representatives of political bodies and civil society organizations was profound although there were limitations on the presence of media workers. But however, the process was being watched 600,000 eyes!

-The IECI distributed 5,000,000 posters nationwide to educate the population on the process and encourage Iraqis to vote.

-2 million brochures were distributed to inform the people on the technical and moral aspects of the election.

-Countless numbers of conferences, lectures and workshops were held to educate the people and encourage them to vote.

-Almost all the defects that took place in some regions today were basically cases in which voters couldn’t find their names in the voter-lists.

-Counting the votes has begun in all stations and the results will be collected and conveyed to the provincial offices to be later conveyed to the IECI HQ in Baghdad.

This final update came from our correspondent in Erbil, W.Z for Pajamas:

After an eventful day with for the voters the polling stations closed their doors at 5 pm while the voters were still arriving!
We met the IECI officials in one of the stations and we asked him about this day and the efforts the IECI made to assure the success of the voting, he replied: "it was really a big day and it turned to be a celebration just like the Norooz day. Then he added I'm extremely happy that I can't even feel tired.

We also asked him about the voter's turnout and he answered "it was more than what we expected" and regarding the obstacles they faced today he said "the only obstacle we faced today was some 14 to 17 years old boys who wanted to participate and when we prevented them they organized some kind of demonstration in front of the station!"
And when we asked him about his expectations he stated that: "he don’t have any numbers now and we will wait for the results to come from the provincial office too" and his last answers was about if there was any violations he said "no everything went on smoothly".

Our correspondent in Mosul, N.R sent this update for Pajamas:
Counting the votes has begun in the entire territory of Nineveh provinces and its capital of Mosul.
An IECI spokesman in the province said that all parties and lists have the right to send their representatives to observe the process of collecting and evacuating the ballot boxes and we actually did see small numbers of those representatives accompany the IECI officials to the provincial office.
Some of those representatives had complaints that were not answered by the local electoral authorities so they decided to send their complaints to the main office or even to the Supreme Court if they didn’t get convincing answers for their complaints.

From its end, the IECI called upon all lists to “be patient until the counts are over”.

According to semi-official information we were able to get, it seems that the National Accord Front will rank first on the province followed by Allawi’s 731 list and then by Salih al-Mutlaq’s while the UIA are expected to score excellent results in the suburbs of Mosul where lives a Sheat majority.

Observers see that the seemingly inevitable success of the Accord Front is attributed to their religious inclination which attracted many votes from Mosul. Add to this that mosques led a powerful campaign to urge the residents to vote for this list.
In spite of the reservations and objections of the educated class in Mosul, the Accord Front will get much of the votes and this can also be attributed to the fact that the Islamic Party which has a strong public base in Mosul decided to join this list.

However, there were many people who voted for other lists as we mentioned above and they explained that they made this decision because the Islamic Party’s visions do not serve their ambitions especially that “this party flip-flops”!

Our correspondent in Babil A.T had this final report for Pajamas:

Polls close at 5 pm in many centers in the province while some continued to receive voters until 6 pm.
Counting the ballot papers has begun in all of the 268 centers that exist in Babil.

Lawyer Qais al-Hasnawi spokesmen of the IECI in the province announced that turnout levels in Babil ranged between 65-70% which puts the province among those with the highest levels of voters’ turnout.

Al-Hasnawi revealed that “hot spots” usually known as the death triangle like Jurf al-Sakher, Musayab, Haswa and Alexandria had also recorded high turnout levels without any violations.

We have talked to a number of political parties’ representatives and they were all satisfied with the security measures and the transparency that accompanied the process.

We have also noticed some interesting events and gestures in Babil today; things like:

-Several polling centers distributed sweets and soft drinks to the voters while men and women cheered and sang celebratory songs.

-An election official refused to let the governor of Babil cast his ballot until he showed his id cards!

-Some voters marked their choices with blood by pricking their fingers in a demonstration of patriotism.

-The city council in Hilla (the provincial capital) arranged to bring 125 buses to move voters from their homes to the polling station.

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