Saturday, January 31, 2009

Election Day in Baghdad

Today was provincial council election day in Iraq.  What has struck me most about this event of potentially world-shaking importance is how normal it has been.  All the news reports have said "little" violence ... I just saw a CNN report that three mortars exploded in Tikrit (about 100 miles north of here), and that's it.  Pretty impressive for a country that was seriously at war with itself less than a year ago.  From my own observation, I only heard one quick siren late in the day.  No big booms from car bombs.  No small-arms fire.  The mullahs sounded normal during the call-to-prayer over the mosques' loudspeakers.  

My TV has been tuned to Iraqi channels this afternoon.  They looked for all the world like American channels during our own elections.  An assortment of anchorpersons (male and female) chattered away at anchordesks.  They cut away to various reporters on the street, who interviewed regular men and women, and showed footage of people in polling places putting ballots in ballot boxes and getting their fingers dunked in the inkwell.  Then back to the anchordesk where some pundit would solemnly analyze proceedings so far.  Then some footage of various high mucky-mucks like Nouri Al-Maliki and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.  One station followed all that up with something kinda like a half-hour music video, featuring some guy in a suit proudly singing while the scenes behind him showed busy markets, crowded streets, mosques, the marsh Arabs, army or police officers marching in parades, people on amusement park rides ... in other words, normality.  

If this was presented to western news reporters, there would be a sense that it was probably for show, or that the reporters would be slanting the news somehow.  But this is on Iraqi television, for Iraqi viewers, who have excellent built-in bullshit detectors.  I can't wait to talk to some of our local Iraqis over the next few days.

One reason the elections have gone so peacefully today is that there is a very large security presence.  Iraqis have taken the lead and provide the visible forces.  American forces are positioned to support the Iraqis, but are staying as invisible as possible.  The troops and vehicles have been pretty much pulled back into the bases.  Our helicopters, however, have been going non-stop - every time I've gone outside, there have been flights going by overhead, sometimes several.  

A group of us travelled over to another base here in the IZ for a meeting today.  Traffic was exceptionally light and there were Iraqi police everywhere.  But still, there was no sense of crisis or danger: the police were standing around, relaxed, smoking cigarettes, and waving at us as we went by.  Just another day in Baghdad, only quieter, more ... normal.  

Results of the election won't be posted until around February 15th.  They'll shape the political environment for the next round of elections for national officials later this year.  There is some anxiety about what will happen when the results come out, and whether that will trigger another round of violence.  From what I saw today, I don't think it will.  Iraqis seem to be very proud of where they are now and how far they've come.  Although there will probably be a lot of grumbling and griping, and maybe some violence, I don't think it will reignite the massive troubles we saw in previous years.  Nobody wants that anymore.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/02/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.