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Maliki Leads in Iraqi Election: Voters See Party as 'Most Expedient Way to End the Occupation'

The U.S. likes to cast elections as proof of the legitimacy of the occupation, but many Iraqis saw their votes as a way to end it.

Amy Goodman: We turn now to Iraq, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies look poised for a sweeping victory in provincial polls held Saturday. Official results will not be published for weeks. But leaders of rival Shia parties acknowledged today Maliki's State of Law coalition appears to be heading for a strong win in some Shia areas.

Prime Minister Maliki gave a televised address after the polls closed Saturday. 

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki: [translated] As we conclude this national epic vote, we will be impatient to learn the results. I hope this will be a strong motivation for the continuation of the political process. Moreover, I hope that we will forget all the troubles that prevailed during the period before the election to build Iraq's future.

AG: Iraqi citizen, Abbass, lauded the government for the heavy security and relative lack of violence on Election Day.

Abbass: [translated] The security situation was very good, and the citizens felt safe to go to the polling centers and even felt free to choose the list that they wanted. No one was feeling pressure on him, and this is a simple right of a citizen.

AG: Only half of Iraq's 14 million registered voters went to the polls Saturday, the lowest turnout in elections held since the U.S.-led invasion.

Many Iraqi and U.S. officials hailed the elections as a success. President Obama called them "a victory for all Iraqis." But tens of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis were unable to cast their vote. Secular politician Mithal al-Alusi said many people who had been forced to move from their homes because of violence could not vote, because their names were not on the voter list.

Mithal Al-Alusi: [translated] The major crime by the independent electoral commission -- and I am skeptical of this independence, as they are weak in front of the bigger parties and were appointed by these big parties -- the major crime is at the expense of the refugees. Tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in Mosul, Baghdad, Kut, Diwaniyah, Amara, Muthana, Nasiriyah, in all of the Iraqi provinces, they were unable to vote.

AG: I'm joined right now here in the firehouse studio by independent journalist David Enders and Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films. They've reported from Iraq for the past few years. Rick just flew in from Baghdad this morning.

Welcome, both, to Democracy Now! Rick, let's start with you. Describe what happened on Saturday. Set the scene for us.

Rick Rowley: Well, it was actually really surprising to us, as it has been in the last few years we've been there, the improvement in security. We were worried. There were threats of violence. We were worried about the curfew being really hard, so we spent the night in Sadr City with Fatah al-Sheikh, the leading Sadrist candidate there, and in the morning went out to vote.

And it felt more like a holiday than like a voting day. I mean, the traffic was shut down, so there were hundreds of soccer games on the streets, like the children were out in the streets. But traveling around the city, the turnout was remarkably low. None of the polling stations looked particularly busy. Sadr City seemed like one of the busier areas, possibly because there are fewer internally displaced people from Sadr City.

And talking to people as they were coming out ... we met many people who said there were voting for Maliki, as the preliminary results suggest, and they were voting for him as the most expedient way to end the occupation. So I think an important thing to remember is that the U.S. likes to try to cast elections in Iraq as referendums on the legitimacy of the occupation -- to see every election as proof that America has defeated the insurgency, but many Iraqis saw this, the votes they were casting in this election, as a way to end the American occupation.