Large Turnout Reported as Iraqis Vote Under Tight Security"Remarkable for the absence of large-scale violence"?
By DEXTER FILKINS
Published: December 15, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 15 - In a day remarkable for the absence of large-scale violence, millions of Iraqi voters, many of them dressed in their best and traveling with other family members, streamed to the polls today to cast ballots in a nationwide election as Iraqi leaders predicted that the vote would split almost evenly between secular and Islamist parties.
In spite of some explosions in Baghdad and Ramadi, voting appeared to be strong in many parts of the country, including in Sunni neighborhoods where many people boycotted the last election.
"The numbers are larger than the previous election," Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States ambassador here, told CNN this morning.
Iraqi and American officials said it would take about a week to compile the preliminary results of the elections. Voters in the 18 Iraqi provinces are choosing among 231 parties, coalitions and candidates in selecting members for a 275-seat Parliament. The legislators will serve a four-year term, and they will approve a president and a prime minister.
As the polls opened at 7 a.m., a mortar struck the middle of the Green Zone compound in central Baghdad, the site of the American Embassy and the offices of top Iraqi officials. About the same time, a roadside bomb exploded in Ramadi. There were no immediate reports of casualties in either blast.
Maybe this is why?
It's through midlevel al-Qaeda operatives like Abu Abdullah, who retains ties to some of his former Baathist comrades, that nationalist groups have newfound influence with al-Zarqawi. "What he's now having to do is balance the hard-line ideology with the softer line of the Iraqis within his group," says Abu Marwan. Sunni insurgent leaders say it was their insistence on voting in the October referendum that discouraged al-Zarqawi from disrupting the poll. For now, the nationalists say they will be voting again on Dec. 15, and they expect al-Qaeda to once more hold its fire. But so far no announcements have been made, and nationalist commanders are worried that al-Zarqawi may decide to go for broke this time. "The debate is being had," says Abu Baqr, the Baghdad insurgent commander. "But soon the orders have to be given."So it's clear why there's been no violence: it's not the popularity of the election, it's the fact that al Zarqawi has held his fire in deference to his Iraqi co-horts.
There's a reported division in the insurgents' ranks. Apparently, the Iraqi resisters of American occupation (there really is no pretty way to put what we're doing over there...I mean, 3/4 of a trillion dollars to let people vote? Cmon!) and the foreign terrorists who have been attracted by the Disneyland-like promise of killing Americans and dying for Allah have been having some friction over the direction they want the insurgency to go.
Obviously, the nationalists would prefer Al Qaeda and other terror organizations allow them to organize a nation around the Iraq flag, where the external terror groups would like nothing better than a talibanate, a puppet government that would put up an external face to the world, in particular France and Germany, that would be acceptable while the terrorists use the country as a base of operations.
This would be an even bigger coup than running Afghanistan, which on its own merits had few assets other than rugged and remote hills to hide in.
Iraq has oil. And it has production facilities. And it can make money. Osama could put his checkbook away.
Iran knows this, which is why they've been working hard trying to infiltrate the election, to the point where this week, a truck filled with ballots that have already been marked was caught at the border, an obvious attempt to stuff ballots in. Iran doesn't want Al Qaeda next door anymore than anyone else does.
So, the fact that there was relative quiet and a large voter turnout shouldn't surprise anyone. It's merely the calm before the storm:
The vote is expected to reveal a fissure of another sort, between a Shiite coalition of religious parties on one side and a mostly secular array of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties on the other.Ask yourself this question: since democracy cannot be imposed from the outside, how likely is any coalition going to hold? The Kurds can't stand the Arabic Shi'a and Sunnis, the Sunnis can't stand the Shi'a, and the Shi'a can't even stand themselves?
Between them are profound differences over the direction of the country and the nature of the Iraqi state, not just over how heavily it should influenced by Islam but also over the powers of the central government and the autonomy granted to local regions. Implicit in those questions, for many Iraqis, is whether the country can survive at all.
The results of the elections are likely to determine whether and to what extent the Bush administration can begin significant withdrawals of American troops next year. American officials, including Ambassador Khalilzad, are expected to take an assertive role helping the Iraqis put together what is likely to be a coalition government.
We really knocked down a hornet's nest, and the hornets are only just waking up.