IRAQ: Voices from Iraq's provincial elections
It could be weeks before the outcome of Iraq's first provincial elections since 2005 are known, but as voting was held today, those taking part -- either as voters or election workers -- were eager to have their voices heard. Here are some of them:
Ali Alwan, a government employee at a polling station in Fallouja: "I walked four kilometers (2.5 miles) to get here. It's a bit far, but I feel good. I will vote for the honest people who will serve this oppressed city."
Ahmed Farhan, auto parts dealer in Fallouja: "I came to vote for Ali Zigam, who is from Tawafiq (Sunni Arab political bloc). This person is an honest one ... a real Iraqi. He didn't come with those who came in with American tanks to rule Iraq. I walked a long time to give my vote. It's worth the effort."
Talba Getan, a homemaker from Baghdad's Sadr City: "At first, me and my sons decided not to vote, but when Muqtada Sadr [the anti-U.S. Shiite cleric] asked us to vote for the Ahrar bloc, we decided to vote for it. I have chosen a female candidate to vote for from that bloc.... To be frank, I don't have great hopes that the people we voted for today will bring change. The people we elected before also did nothing for us."
Ahmed Makhi Badr, an election worker in Najaf: "I volunteered to do this for freedom, and to serve democracy," Badr said as sleepy-eyed election volunteers waited for voters to show up shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m.
Ajil Abid Hummadi, a lawyer in Samawah: "I believe strongly in the political process and that these elections will improve many aspects of our life. I chose the slate of the Communist Party. Its candidates are qualified and good people. Many candidates asked me to vote for them in a friendly way, but at the end, it is my choice."
Qasim Mohammed, a voter in the southern city of Basra, voted for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party: "He helped strengthen security in this city. He is thinking about the welfare of Iraq. This election, I expect, will change the city with better public services, security, economy."
Aqeel Mohammed Farhan, an election worker in Fallouja: "Voters started arriving at 7 a.m. There is a good number, which indicates people are more aware of the importance of voting. When voters came, some of them did not pay attention to the campaign ads, which also indicates they have already decided whom to vote for. Security-wise, the situation is very calm."
Zuhair Hassam Mohammed, a voter in Basra, who voted for Maliki's Dawa Party: "I expect this man will change life in Iraq in general and Basra in particular, and improve public services and put an end to suffering. In the current council, the religious leaders are too controlling."
Akran Khaled, former military officer in Tikrit: "I voted for the Iyad Allawi (Iraqiya) slate. It's a secular slate and does not discriminate among Iraqis. We reject the return of sectarian figures who may escalate sectarian tensions and violence again, so our best hope is the Iraqiya slate."
Usama Ahmed Samih, government ministry employee, in west Baghdad: "I elected the slate in which there are secular people. With all due respect to the religious parties, they created sectarianism in this country, and this is not in our interests."
Kifayah Hassan, a homemaker in Sadr City: "I am here early. I came to vote for the people of Iraq, for their sake. I voted for our prime minister, Nouri Maliki, because he will make our future brighter."
Zaibab Kareem Gharrawi, a doctor in the southern city of Amarah: "I elected the Allawi (Iraqiya) slate. I respect this man. He was prime minister during a very difficult time. He is secular."
Lafta Fayadh, a retiree in Amarah: "We hope this election will change our life and improve it. I elected the Maliki (Dawa Party) slate because this man created good security in the city after taking control from militiamen."
Jaafar Moussa, merchant, east Baghdad: "I am a Shiite Kurd. I elected Adham Hussein Mahmud because he is my tribal sheik and also I know him personally as a good man. I expect that electing him is for the interest of the tribe and me personally."
-- Times correspondents in Iraq
Photos, from top: An election worker helps an elderly blind woman drop her ballot into the box after voting early today in Baghdad; a voter dips his finger into ink to show he has cast his ballot; an Iraqi woman appears befuddled by the ink staining her finger after casting her ballot; a man studies the ballot sheet at a polling booth in Baghdad. Credit: Saad Khalaf / Los Angeles Times