by Peggy Gish
The mood was one of celebration. Iraqis in the city of Khanaqin, northern Diyala province, crowded into polling centers on provincial election day, 31 January. Many dressed in their best Kurdish or Arab traditional clothing or wrapped in flags. "We are happy to express our democracy," several told us after voting, showing their purple tipped fingers.
As international independent election observers, CPT-Iraq team members visited three polling sites where voting procedures seemed efficient and workers seemed helpful and fair. We saw no threatening behavior on the part of Khanaqin police who guarded the sites. But not everyone walked out happy with purple fingers.
Farid Zhian, with his wife and adult son exclaimed, "We won't leave until we can vote, even if we have to stay all day!" Saddam's regime forced their family to leave Khanaqin and move to Fallujah in the 1970's. After they returned to the Khanaqin area, they applied to transfer their food ration card which would allow them to vote here. However, their names were not on the voting list.
Family after family came to us with similar stories and complaints. We saw a crowd of about 300 Kurds protesting and demanding the right to vote outside the Independent High Electoral Commission's (IHEC) office. Even though the physical voting process seemed fair, the IHEC registration rules clearly disfavored the Kurds.
Officials confirmed that about a million Arab internally displaced people (IDPs) in southern Diyala province and northern Baghdad province had the same difficulties voting as the Kurds in Khanaqin and other areas. After protesting on the streets, however, the Arab IDP's were allowed to vote.
The different treatment of Arab voters fuels the belief of many Kurds that the IHEC intentionally used its internal voting regulations to reduce the number of Kurdish voters. Unfortunately, this will only increase the animosity and mistrust between Iraq's ethnic groups.