Iraqi Candidates Hit Old-Fashioned Campaign Trail The relative lack of violence in Iraq has allowed a new kind of campaigning ahead of Saturday's provincial elections. The streets of Baghdad are festooned with political posters, and candidates, in the thousands, are hitting the campaign trail for retail politicking.
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Iraqi Candidates Hit Old-Fashioned Campaign Trail

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Iraqi Candidates Hit Old-Fashioned Campaign Trail

Iraqi Candidates Hit Old-Fashioned Campaign Trail

Iraqi Candidates Hit Old-Fashioned Campaign Trail

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/100006337/100027449" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A man walks past central Baghdad's Fardus Square, which is adorned with election posters and a blimp, Jan. 29. The country is gearing up for provincial elections on Jan. 31, the first polls to be held in Iraq since 2005. Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

A man walks past central Baghdad's Fardus Square, which is adorned with election posters and a blimp, Jan. 29. The country is gearing up for provincial elections on Jan. 31, the first polls to be held in Iraq since 2005.

Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

In Iraq, the relative lack of violence has allowed a new kind of campaigning ahead of Saturday's provincial elections.

The streets of Baghdad are festooned with political posters, and candidates, in the thousands, are hitting the campaign trail for some retail politicking. The campaigns of two newcomers to Iraqi politics illustrate the challenges — and joys — politicians face.

People crowd around candidate Farik Hai Al Ghazali at an outdoor market here. They ask him what he's going to do about jobs, about the displaced, about services.

In the midst of the scrum, Ghazali is handing out fliers and calendars with his name and picture emblazoned on them, telling the crowd that he just wants them to vote.

It's the kind of thing politicians do the world over — get out among the people and press the flesh. But here in Baghdad, it's something new.

Ghazali used to be a hospital administrator until he got into politics. He is a secular Shiite who is running a nonsectarian campaign.

He doesn't have much of a staff. Only eight people work for him, mostly family. It's a small party, too, a new one, as are more than 70 percent of the parties listed for Saturday's vote.

The candidate says he and others from liberal parties feel optimistic about the election because of voters' negative reactions to Islamic parties, both Shiite and Sunni.

Ghazali may feel optimistic, but his chances as a complete newcomer — and in a small secular party, at that — may not be good.

On the other side of the political spectrum, and the other side of Baghdad, a few hundred women gather on plastic lawn chairs in a field in Fahama, a farming village on the outskirts of the city. It was once one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad; this is where Sunni insurgents would leave the bodies of people they kidnapped and decapitated. Now, these Sunni women have come to hear one of their own who is running for office.

Ayesha Gazal Al Mesari is a conservative Sunni. She wears a pale green hijab, carefully covering her hair as she addresses the crowd. She is running on the ticket of the Iraqi Islamic Party. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the IIP is one of the few Sunni parties that participated in the 2005 elections.

"Our participation in the last elections was very weak. Women do not understand the importance and how to take part in elections. That's why I decided to run for office this time," says Mesari.

Among the crowd is Amna Majeed Ahmad. She says she has never heard of Mesari. But she is not optimistic about the elections. She says politicians have done nothing to help her and other women like her.

"We do not know her; we do not know what is inside her heart. We want something concrete," Ahmad says.

Mesari ran a charity helping widows and orphans before she decided to run for office. It is obvious, standing in a field that was once a no-man's land, that she is enjoying the crowds.

"I notice how people react to me, how people accept me. ... These people love me," she says.

But while retail politics is a new thing in Iraq, it's also a dangerous one.

Shiite candidate Ghazali says he has received death threats.

"I have four times [received] threats [by] phone — 'We will kill you, prepare your coffin,'" he says.

But Ghazali seems unfazed by the potential danger. Like politicians everywhere, he seems to feed off the people who approach him in the market.

"They told me: 'You are our cousin. We are the same tribe.' This is my pleasure," he says.

Ghazali quickly runs out of fliers and turns to his staff for replacements — he wants to stay a little longer, campaigning just a little bit more.