Iraqis Head to Polls for Parliamentary Elections

A man votes at a polling station in Baghdad, Dec. 15.

A man votes at a polling station in Baghdad, Dec. 15. Getty Images hide caption

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Across Iraq, voters are turning out at thousands of polling places to elect a new government. Steve Inskeep talks to Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad and Anne Garrels in Fallujah. Renee Montagne talks to Eric Westervelt in Mosul.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

All across Iraq, voters are turning up at thousands of polling places. Today's election will choose a parliament which will name a permanent government which US officials hope will encourage stability. This morning, we're going to check in with reporters across the country starting with NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.

And, Jamie, what are people hoping in terms of turnout?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, Steve, everyone is hoping that as many of the 50 million registered voters will turn out today. It really depends on the security situation. For some, people may not feel very comfortable about going outside. You know, there are still some threats for people to actually leave their homes, but there's also a big hope that the Sunnis will represent themselves well today. They seem to be out there particularly in Anbar province turning out in great numbers to go and vote this time around.

INSKEEP: And we're going to go out into Sunni dominated area including Anbar province in a moment. First, though, Jamie, tell us what Baghdad is like today on this election day.

TARABAY: Well, we woke up this morning to a couple of mortars and that's been pretty regular throughout the rest of the day. The streets are largely deserted because there is no road traffic. Cars are banned today and so many people are making their way to polling stations on foot. So we are seeing a steady trickle, a bit slow, but it may pick up later on as the day progresses.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jamie Tarabay is in Baghdad, the first location we're checking this morning.

MONTAGNE: We go now to Mosul in northern Iraq where NPR's Eric Westervelt is traveling with the US military.

And hello, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What has been the turnout where you are and the mood there in Mosul on this election day?

WESTERVELT: So far turnout is light. The US military and Iraqi officials I've spoken with expect the turnout to pick later in the day. There's a kind of tense optimism here. I've talked to some people who were pretty excited. They had just voted. Others said they were going to vote later in the day and there was some confusion. I talked to a guy who was selling bread. And he said, `Look, I'm too busy. I don't have time to vote. I'm going to call my brother. He's going to vote for me.' And the US military folks said, `Ah, that's really not allowed.' And he said, `Oh, really?' So he didn't know that that wasn't allowed and there is that kind of confusion on the ground here.

MONTAGNE: And you are with the military there. You know, what is their role? Are they staying away from the polls?

WESTERVELT: They are. They're trying to stay as far away from the polls as they can but still coordinate with the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and provide a kind of outer cordon, an outer perimeter of security, but it's difficult, Renee. The Stryker Armored Vehicle is a big vehicle. It's certainly difficult to hide in an urban setting. On top of that, there are Kiowa Warrior helicopters circling overhead, providing surveillance and intelligence, and, you know, it's a pretty big US military footprint as much as they're trying to be low-key today.

MONTAGNE: And has there been any violence?

WESTERVELT: There has been some violence. There have been five roadside bombings. Four of them went off. One was defused before it could. No US casualties but one Iraqi policeman was killed on the east side of the river. They've also had one guy on the east side--one of those bombs, Renee, was a guy who pulled up on a bicycle, dropped a satchel, took off and then it exploded. So they've now banned all bike traffic throughout Mosul, and US and Iraqi police and military officials are going around telling all kids on bikes to, you know, take it home to mom and stay off the bike.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, NPR's Eric Westervelt in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

INSKEEP: We're going next to what had been the heart of Iraq's insurgency, Fallujah, which is where we found NPR's Anne Garrels. She is going to polling stations with the US Marines there.

And, Anne, what have you seen today?

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Well, turnout appears to be pretty high, but there are some problems. A number of polling stations haven't got enough boxes. Some don't have any boxes. A lot of voters are turning up and finding their names aren't on the list and they're going from polling station to polling station. And since all traffic is banned, they've got to walk a considerable amount of time. And, of course, there are conspiracy theories here in Fallujah. They say that the current Shiite-led government has deliberately screwed up the elections here and order that Sunnis not vote.

INSKEEP: Is there any sense among the Sunnis that they think this election will change anything?

GARRELS: They hope it will change something and what they want is greater representation. What they hope is that they will be able to--in a position to pressure the government first of all to have a real army in which Sunnis are represented. They feel that the current army is completely dominated by Shiites and they want the US at the very least to pull out of the city. But then when you ask them here, `OK. Do you want the US to leave?' they say, `No, not yet.'

INSKEEP: Anne, we've been hearing behind you the sound of loudspeakers from a mosque but not the sound of gunfire. Has it been a peaceful day?

GARRELS: It's been so far pretty peaceful. There was one bombing last night at a polling station. The imams here in Fallujah have told Fallujans it is their duty to go out and vote. And it looks like the men at least are voting. I didn't see very many women, and apparently the polling stations at least here in Fallujah are allowing the men to come in and vote for the women even though that's not legal under the election rules. That seems to be allowed here.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to NPR's Anne Garrels in Fallujah.

Anne, thanks very much.

GARRELS: Thank you.

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