Iraqis go to the polling booth today in their first provincial elections in the post-Saddam era. The BBC reports that while the Iraqis have put tight security measures in place and mortars have hit occasionally, a festive mood has broken out in Iraq. Turnout appears heavy, especially among the Sunni:
Iraqis are electing new provincial councils in the first nationwide vote in four years, with the Sunni minority expected to turn out in strength.
After a slow start, correspondents said voting was brisk, including among Sunni Muslims, who largely boycotted the last elections.
The vote is seen as a test of Iraq’s stability ahead of a general election due later this year.
Security is tight and thousands of observers are monitoring the polls.
The Sunnis learned a lesson from 2005, when they boycotted two elections. They expected the Shi’ites and Kurds to woo them and get a better deal, but instead they got marginalized in the National Assembly. That prompted the Sunni to ally themselves with al-Qaeda and native insurgents, which was an even bigger mistake. This time they plan on participating to ensure proper representation — a victory for democracy.
How big of a change will we see? In 2005, the Sunnis had a 2% turnout. The head of Anbar’s electoral board expects a 60% turnout this time. It demonstrates the radical shift in thinking among the Sunni about national unity, but to be fair, it also demonstrates the transformation of the security situation in Anbar and other Sunni areas. While there were plenty of refuseniks in 2005, many people got intimidated into staying home by the insurgents and AQI terrorists in the previous national elections.
Iraqi security forces expected an effort by terrorists to disrupt the elections this time as well, specifically by using women as suicide bombers. Their culture does not allow for men to search women — for that matter, neither does ours under normal circumstances — so the Iraqis hired hundreds of women to perform that task instead. The traffic bans and closed borders of the 2004 and 2005 elections are back, even though the danger has grown much smaller in the intervening years. They’re taking few chances, and at least so far it’s been successful.
The Shi’ites may have their own transformation in these elections. The previous elections produced large support for theocratic parties, but this time observers believe that they will lose significant ground to nationalist and/or secular parties. Without the Mahdis gripping the Shi’ite areas, the people want to get away from imam rule. Moqtada al-Sadr will disappear even further into oblivion.
This is what victory looks like.