ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
..TEXT: It's All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. In Iraq, the relative lack of violence has opened the way for a new kind of campaigning ahead of Saturday's provincial elections. The streets of Baghdad are festooned with political posters. Candidates in the thousands are out doing retail politicking. NPR's JJ Sutherland spent some time in the Iraqi capital with two newcomers to politics in Iraq.
JJ SUTHERLAND: 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 upon them.
FARIK HAI AL GHAZALI: (Arab spoken)
SUTHERLAND: Please take some, brother, take some sister, he says. He tells them he just wants them to vote. That'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.
HAI AL GHAZALI: We as liberal parties, we feel optimistic in this elections because the negative reaction from people from the Islamic parties, Shiite or Sunni.
SUTHERLAND: 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 are gathered on plastic lawn chairs in a field. This is Fahama, a farming village on the outskirts of the city. 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 are gathered to hear one of their own who is running for office.
AYESHA GAZAL AL MESARI: (Through Translator) My dear sisters, my ambition as a candidate for the provincial council of Baghdad is to help you. I'm from you and belong to you. May God help me to serve you to the best of my ability. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
SUTHERLAND: Ayesha Gazal Al Mesari is a conservative Sunni. She wears a pale green hijab, carefully covering her hair as she addresses the crowd. She's running on the ticket of the Iraqi Islamic Party. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, it's one of the few Sunni parties that participated in the 2005 elections.
GAZAL AL MESARI: (Through Translator) You know, 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.
SUTHERLAND: Among the crowd is Amna Majeed Ahmad. She says she has never even 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.
AMNA MAJEED AHMAD: (Through Translator) We do not know her. We do not know what is inside her heart. We want something concrete.
SUTHERLAND: Mesari ran a charity helping widows and orphans before she decided to run for office. It's obvious, standing in a field that was once a no man's land, that she is enjoying the crowds.
GAZAL AL MESARI: (Through Translator) I notice how people react to me, how people accept me. Thanks to God, these people love me.
SUTHERLAND: But while retail politics is a new thing in Iraq, it's also a dangerous one.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS)
SUTHERLAND: Again, Shiite candidate Farik Hai Al Ghazali.
HAI AL GHAZALI: I had four times threats in my phone. We will kill you. Prepare your coffin. We will kidnap one of your children.
SUTHERLAND: But Ghazali seems unfazed by the potential danger. Like politicians everywhere, he seems to feed off the people who approach him in the market.
HAI AL GHAZALI: They told me, you are our cousins. We are the same tribe. It is my pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SUTHERLAND: Ghazali quickly runs out of fliers and turns to his staff for more. He wants to stay a little longer. JJ Sutherland, NPR News, Baghdad.
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