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Turnout strong, violence minimal, as
Iraqis vote in historic parliamentary election

BAGHDAD (BP)–Iraqis turned out in strong numbers Dec. 15 to elect a permanent parliament, stretching polling locations throughout the country because of high turnout and a shortage of ballots in some locations.

The 275-member parliament will serve for four years and will replace the temporary parliament elected last January. The election Dec. 15 marked the third time Iraqis had voted this year; in October, they adopted a constitution. The amount of violence was minimal.

After they voted many Iraqis held up an ink-stained finger, a sign that they cast a ballot. The mark prevents people from voting more than once.

“The number of people participating is very, very high and we have had very few irregularities,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, told the Associated Press. “It is a good day so far, good for us, good for Iraq.”

In an effort to lessen the violence, Iraq enforced a nationwide vehicle ban, keeping cars off the street and forcing people to walk to the polls.

Iraqi Election Commission chief Hussein Hendawi told Reuters that turnout was at least 67 percent — significantly higher than the 58 percent who voted in the January election. Lines were so long and turnout so high that polls were extended one hour, to 6 p.m. local time. Results will be announced in approximately two weeks, although the majority Shiites are expected to win the most seats. But that may not be enough seats to form a government that can rule without negotiating with the various minority Sunni and Kurd factions, AP said.

Unlike the January elections, which many of them boycotted, Sunnis turned out in high numbers. Sunni participation is significant to the Bush administration, which is hoping that Sunni acceptance of the election results will lead to a lessening of violence. Most of the insurgency violence has come from Sunni Mulims.

At the White House, President Bush met with some out-of-country Iraqi citizens who had voted and were showcasing ink-stained fingers.

“I want to congratulate the Iraqi citizens for being courageous and in defying the terrorists and refusing to be cowed into not voting,” Bush said. “I believe freedom is universal. I believe the Iraqi citizen cares just as much about freedom and living a free life as the American citizen does.

“… This is a major step forward in achieving our objective, which is … having a democratic Iraq, a country able to sustain itself and defend itself, a country that will be an ally in the war on terror, and a country which will send such a powerful example to others in the region, whether they live in Iran or Syria, for example.”

Iraq is comprised of three basic factions: the Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south.

“I came here and voted in order to prove that Sunnis are not a minority in this country,” Yahya Abdul-Jalil, a Sunni in Ramadi, told AP. “We lost a lot during the last elections, but this time we will take our normal and key role in leading this country.”

Khalid Fawaz, a Sunni in Fallujah, told AP he voted “so that the Sunnis are no longer marginalized.” Fallujah’s mayor, Dhari Youssef al-Arsan, said some of the polling stations in his city ran out of ballots and that some did not get ballots at all, AP reported.

The Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk also saw high voter turnout, AP said.

“This is the day to get our revenge from Saddam,” Chiman Saleh, a Kurdish woman, told AP, adding that Sadaam Hussein’s regime killed two of her brothers.

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