Tikrit Braces for Election

Editor's Note: This story has not been bylined because of concerns for the security of IWPR reporters.

Many residents of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, say they would vote if security threats were not such a deterrent.

"My family and I would like to take part in the election even though we don't know anything about it, but the situation doesn't allow us to do so," said Ahmed al-Sheikh Ajili, a 29-year-old electrical engineer.

On Jan. 30, Iraqi voters are scheduled to go to the polls to choose a 275-member national assembly, which is charged with writing a new constitution and appointing a cabinet. Voters also will choose 18 provincial councils and voters in the Kurdish region will select 111 members to an assembly.

Tikrit is located in the central region of Iraq, the so-called Sunni Triangle. The interim Iraqi government has imposed a curfew across this area, including Tikrit. But that has not stopped the insurgents from carrying out attacks on polling stations and candidates.

While leading Sunni politicians are urging a boycott of the elections, many voters in Tikrit say they would take part if only they had some basic information about the poll.

Ahmed Aid al-Sheikh, a resident of Tikrit, says that young people in Tikrit do not know enough about the election process. He said the problem is compounded by the security situation, which means candidates are unable to put up posters or campaign openly.

"All we know is that the list in Tikrit includes 27 candidates. Who they are, what their orientation is, we don't know," he said. "But the main problem is that we are afraid to go to the polling stations."

Sana Sufian, a local pharmacist, said she too is concerned about security.

"The terrorists think that they can stop democratic life, but we will make every effort to live a democratic life, even if it takes a while," she said. "I do want to take part in the elections, but I can't because of the statements being made by the terrorist murderers."

Traffic policeman Muhammed Marai insisted that his family would not be deterred from voting on election day. Marai said he believes the security situation in Tikrit is actually better than in Baghdad because it is smaller.

"We don't deny that a misled group wants the town to be in a state of disorder, but we are preventing them from achieving this, in order that our people can live in peace," said the policeman.

On the other side of the divide, a young man who claims to be a member of an armed group agreed to talk to a reporter on condition of anonymity. He justified the need to upset the electoral process by arguing that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi would not allow a fair ballot.

"Let Allawi forget about security as he doesn't respect his people and I don't want him to laugh at us and say the elections were free," said the man, adding, "There will be no elections, there will be no elections."

Even some of the prospective voters interviewed voiced concern that the vote would be rigged. Omer Ali Othman said if the election is not fixed at the ballot box, then the results will be altered later to suit the interests of the United States.

"We, the people of Tikrit, will take part in the elections, but the results have already been manipulated," Othman said. "All this will be in the interests of the Americans, and at the expense of our rights."

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