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Stories As Iraq Citizens Go the to Polls

October 15, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Saturday’s balloting began poorly in Azamiyah, the capital’s Sunni Arab stronghold, when a rocket exploded near a voting center at 8:30 a.m., slightly wounding one civilian.

As the day progressed, however, droves of people turned up to vote at heavily guarded polling stations in the middle-class quarter of northern Baghdad that hugs the Tigris River.

Sunni-led insurgents had threatened to kill fellow Sunnis in areas such as Azamiyah who ignored the militants’ call for a boycott. Still, many in Azamiyah showed up to vote ``no″ to defeat a constitution they believed favors Kurds and Shiites, and could lead to the breakup of Iraq.

Youssef Ibrahim al-Shimiri, a 76-year-old retired nurse, arrived at one polling station with his wife and several of his children. Wearing a traditional white Arab robe and fiddling with his worry beads, he said he had voted ``no.″

``This is not democracy. There can be no democracy if it arrives on tanks and children and women are killed every day,″ he said, referring to the continued presence of U.S. forces who led the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Another voter, Jilan Shaker, 22, a laborer wearing shorts and plastic sandals, agreed.

``This is all wrong. I said ‘no’ to a constitution written by the Americans,″ he said.


HADITHA, Iraq (AP) _ It was a unique way to foil suicide bombers.

In this Sunni Arab city _ infested until recently with insurgents _ a schoolhouse at the top of a steep hill was chosen as the main polling station. The 150 city residents who voted there had to struggle up a winding, dirty pathway. Cars were banned throughout the city.

At the bottom of the path, the voters first had to walk by a U.S. tank, concrete barriers, metal detectors and dozens of Marines _ all designed to stop suicide bombers coming by car or on foot.

Up top, Iraqi soldiers guarded the school, one of only two polling places open in the city of 60,000 people.

It was peaceful throughout the day, but residents had cause for concern: Insurgents had attacked U.S. forces with rocket propelled grenades in the nearby city of Haqlaniyah and an adjacent village, said Capt. Shannon Neller of New York, of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.


HILLAH, Iraq (AP) _ There was a party-like atmosphere in some neighborhoods of this largely Shiite Muslim city, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, where residents turned car and home radios up to blare out songs praising Iraq and Shiite religious leaders.

At Hamurabi elementary school, polling station number 2, voters had to pass through barricades and were searched by police before moving inside to vote. Iraqi soldiers were stationed on the school roof _ a strategic high ground against possible attacks.

Zhayah Ajrish, accompanied by her 5-year-old daughter, Zahraa, said she voted ``yes.″ Her daughter insisted on going along to see the ballots.

As Ajrish dropped her vote in the box, her daughter began to cry because she had no ballot paper to deposit. Election officials did dip her finger in the jar of ink, however, a sign that the child had voted _ if only in theory.


BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ In Sadr City, an impoverished area of about 2.5 million Shiites in northeastern Baghdad, many voters Saturday followed the fatwa, or edict, of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He had directed a ``yes″ vote on the new constitution.

In an area where militiamen loyal to the maverick cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had revolted twice against U.S. forces last year, security was surprisingly less intense than elsewhere in Baghdad. Only a handful of police turned up at most polling places.

``I followed the advice of Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, our great cleric,″ said Jalal Fuad, a 35-year-old father of three. ``He said to vote `yes’ and he knows what’s best for us.″

But not all voters in the sprawling district followed the ayatollah’s edict.

Haitham Aouda Abdul-Nabi, the 23-year-old co-owner of a neighborhood grocery, said he voted ``no″ to express his anger over the continuing chaos in Iraq, including insurgent attacks, seemingly endless bickering among politicians, and the collapse of the capital’s infrastructure.

``Only force can bring results with a people like us in Iraq. We need someone like Saddam (Hussein). This government is too weak,″ Abdul-Nabi said in a low voice to avoid being heard by other voters streaming out of the polling place.


AP reporters Omar Sinan in Baghdad, Iraq, and Anthony Castaneda in Haditha, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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