Da The Daily Star del 31/01/2005
Originale su http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&a...

Iraqis defy violence to cast historic vote

Insurgents kill at least 30 people in bloody assault on landmark poll

Millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election on Sunday, defying insurgents who killed at least 30 people in a bloody assault on the poll. U.S. President George W. Bush congratulated the people of Iraq on "this great and historic achievement" but cautioned that more hard work lay ahead to turn the nation into a democracy. Despite a massive security clampdown, rebels wearing belts packed with explosives targeted polling stations and even the home of a minister to try to wreck the election that took Iraq a further step away from the legacy of Saddam.

Amid estimates from Iraqi officials and foreign observers of a strong turnout, the United States and the Iraqi government declared the election had been a success.

"In great numbers and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy. By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists," Bush said.

An official with Iraq's electoral commission said it estimated that about eight million people took part, roughly 60 percent of registered voters, but cautioned that the figures were preliminary. "What is certainly the case is that turnout has exceeded expectations throughout the country," a commission statement said. An official turnout estimate could be announced late Sunday or Monday. Insurgents who vowed to turn election day into a bloodbath killed at 30 civilians and six police, while a U.S. Marine was killed in the western province of Al-Anbar. Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who is expected to play lead role in the next government, hailed the election for a 275-member assembly to draw up a new constitution and lay the groundwork for a post-Saddam future.

"This is the start of a new era, for the first time, Iraqis are deciding on their own future and defying the terrorist forces," he said. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also described the election as a blow to terrorism throughout the world. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's representative in Iraq described the election as "transparent and fair" and also highlighted the high turnout. The majority Shiite community and Kurds concentrated in the north had been predicted to vote in high numbers in one of the most dangerous and controversial elections of modern times. But the election commission said even among Sunni Arabs - who were the ruling elite under Saddam and all previous Iraqi governments - turnout was higher than expected despite boycott calls from leading clerics and politicians. Counting began in some areas by lantern-light because of power blackouts that have plagued the country. Tens of thousands of Iraqi and mainly U.S. foreign troops were on the streets to counter threats by Al-Qaeda frontman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - whose group claimed to have "spoiled the party" with a string of suicide attacks.

The government sealed frontiers, closed Baghdad international airport and imposed a night-time curfew over the election period. Travel between provinces and vehicle traffic near polling stations were also banned. Despite the measures, the interior ministry said 36 people were killed and almost 100 wounded during the day.

About nine suicide bombers also died, while 26 Iraqis and three Egyptians were detained, according to the ministry. But Interior Minister Falah al-Nakib said the number of attacks was "less than a tenth" of what he had been expecting. A group that organized 10,000 independent observers said there had been little fraud. "In general the elections went ahead in an excellent way and there was very little fraud or violations," a spokesman for the Ain (Eye) non-governmental organization said. Whatever the result, it will be just the start of a long haul to stability which will have to overcome more violence and political turmoil in a country where the deadly insurgency replaced three decades of repressive rule under Saddam. With rebels threatening a long-term war, the U.S. and the interim Iraqi government have refused to set a timetable to withdraw the foreign forces.

And in another incident underlining the risks for U.S. forces and their allies in Iraq, a British transport plane crashed northwest of Baghdad, with Blair saying there had been fatalities. In one of Sunday's deadliest attacks, a bomber wearing an explosives-packed belt killed seven civilians and two policemen outside a polling station. One got into a polling center in the capital, killing two people. A bomb tore apart a bus of Sunnis being ferried to a polling station south of Baghdad, killing five and wounding 14, police said.

In southern Iraq, Shiites who make up 60 percent of the population flocked to vote.

"I had often been forced to vote under Saddam Hussein. Today I come out of my own will to choose freely the candidate of my choice for the first and last time in my life," said Mahdeya Saleh, 80, in Najaf. Encouraging others to vote in the southern city of Basra, Taha Lufta said he cast his ballot for the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance "because it includes Islamists, and we want an Islamic constitution in Iraq." The alliance has the key backing of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite spiritual leader, and is expected to be the biggest single bloc in the new assembly.

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