Big Sunni Turnout Anticipated in Iraq Vote
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
US and Iraqi military officials are reporting abuse at another detention center in Baghdad. A raid on the jail last week revealed 13 prisoners who suffered abuse serious enough to require medical treatment. News of that raid comes just before Thursday's parliamentary elections, and it could add to the scrutiny of the government, which is dominated by Shiite Muslims. Many Sunnis boycotted last January's election, but as NPR's Anne Garrels reports, this time Sunni leaders are urging their followers to participate.
Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)
ANNE GARRELS reporting:
The largest Sunni coalition led by the Iraqi Islamic Party, which boycotted the elections last January, is frantically campaigning. Its message: Keep Iraq unified, end sectarian violence and end the US occupation. Omar al-Jabouri(ph), a leading party activist, accuses US-led Iraqi forces, the majority of whom are Shiites, of attacking Sunni areas to disrupt the vote. He blames the current Shiite-led government for condoning the killing of Sunnis, and the discovery of a second government detention center last week where prisoners were tortured has added fuel to their charges. However, it's not clear if the prisoners were just Sunnis. The case is still under investigation. Jabouri's party is trying to bring all Sunnis together, including insurgents. He draws a distinction between what he calls the real resistance and foreign fighters in al-Qaeda.
Mr. OMAR AL-JABOURI: (Through Translator) Iraqi resistance groups have promised to calm down during the elections in order to help us. The only exception is al-Qaeda. There is a big gap between them. That's why all Iraqis around hate al-Qaeda.
GARRELS: Jabouri's father was killed for plotting to overthrow Saddam Hussein. He's far from a Baathist, but as an Iraqi nationalist and Sunni cleric, he opposes the US occupation. Omar blames al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq on the US.
Mr. AL-JABOURI: (Through Translator) There was not one al-Qaeda in Iraq before the war. So if the US didn't bring them here, who did? Once we reach the parliament, there will be no al-Qaeda.
Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)
GARRELS: Sunni Muslim preachers have exhorted their followers to vote. In this mosque in a Baghdad neighborhood, the cleric told his followers to vote for the Iraqi Islamic Party, but those leaving said they were still considering the alternatives.
Mr. HUSSEIN SALAM(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
GARRELS: Twenty-three-year-old Hussein Salam, a college graduate, is looking for the most neutral party that can unite the country, and he thinks that might be the secular slate headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Slick posters, TV ads, Internet sites and text messaging have been countered by more brutal forms of campaigning, threats, intimidation and assassinations. As many as two dozen candidates and party workers have been killed, but in Fallujah, once the heart of the insurgency, Salah(ph), a young journalist, says it's been pretty peaceful. Reached by phone, he says there have been no fliers this time warning people not to vote.
SALAH (Journalist): (Through Translator) All are determined to vote. They're all just men. The sheiks of all the tribes are urging people to vote.
GARRELS: And even here, where Allawi sanctioned the Marine assault last year which largely destroyed the city, there are Iraqis now ready to support him.
SALAH: (Through Translator) He's a strong slate, which include Iraqis from all sects.
GARRELS: This new Sunni determination to vote and the apparent decision by at least some insurgent groups not to stop the voting is a distinct shift, but tensions between Iraq's communities remain deep, and the vote is likely to be split. This means there could be difficult and quite possibility violent maneuvering in the post-election period. The winners of this election will form Iraq's first full-term government, and even though the constitution passed last October, it was not approved by Sunnis. They want a constitution to preserve a strong central state while Shiites and Kurds are determined to carve out or preserve autonomy in their regions. The issues that divide Iraqis have been put off until the new government debates constitutional amendments.
Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.