Mosul Sees Large Turnout in Iraqi Elections Voting in the ethnically divided northern city of Mosul proceeds relatively smoothly. Sunnis and Kurds both go to the polls in large numbers despite sporadic violence.
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Mosul Sees Large Turnout in Iraqi Elections

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Mosul Sees Large Turnout in Iraqi Elections

Mosul Sees Large Turnout in Iraqi Elections

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

`This is our destiny,' said a businessman in Fallujah. In the Kurdish region in the north, there were some irregularities but no major incidents. In Baghdad, the normally noisy, busy streets were quiet, filled with families walking to the polling stations together. All across Iraq, millions of people cast their votes, making their choices for the country's first permanent government since the US invasion.

BLOCK: Turnout was high even in parts of the country where the insurgency is strong. There was some violence. Several explosions echoed through Baghdad. A mortar shell landed near a polling station in Tall'Afar and a bomb went off in Ramadi, but overall there was far less bloodshed than most days.

NORRIS: We'll have reports from three NPR correspondents in three parts of Iraq. We'll hear from Anne Garrels in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and from Ivan Watson in the north in Iraqi Kurdistan. And we're going to begin with NPR's Eric Westervelt in Mosul.


In this ethnically divided northern city, voting today went relatively smoothly.

(Soundbite of street activity)

Unidentified Child: Mister, mister.

WESTERVELT: In an impoverished Sunni neighborhood on the west side of Mosul, dozens of children clamor for free soccer balls and candy from US troops. And many adults, including Mahmedi Mahmoud(ph), show off their ink-stained index fingers. Mahmoud, an unemployed 40-something father of three, says he stayed home last January like the majority of Sunnis in this volatile city of nearly two million. But today, he says, he cast his ballot for a slate headed by a secular Shiite with a well-known name.

Mr. MAHMEDI MAHMOUD (Voter): Ayad Allawi.

WESTERVELT: Mahmoud says he has no illusions that election day results will bring about quick change, but, he says, he is encouraged.

Mr. MAHMOUD: (Through Translator) We want somebody who supports the people here in Iraq. We are very poor here. We hope the new government will help us.

WESTERVELT: Nearby another Sunni voter, who gave his name only as Iyed(ph), says two and a half years after Saddam's overthrow, he's hoping the elections speed up improvement in vital services.

IYED (Voter): (Through Translator) The basic things they needed here they don't have it like water, like electricity power, security.

WESTERVELT: Four bombs went off today in Mosul on the east side of the Tigris River, including a satchel bomb near a polling station dropped off and detonated by a man on a bicycle. One Iraqi policeman was killed and two were injured. After that, all bike traffic was banned.

The overwhelming Sunni west side, the scene of major insurgent violence over the last 18 months, was largely violence-free today. US soldiers didn't fire a shot. Iraqi army and police, however, weren't quite as restrained.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: Ambulances were the only cars allowed on the street today. This ambulance driver complains loudly to a US Army patrol and its interpreter that Iraqi soldiers opened fire on him without warning.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) It's OK to stop them, but they don't have to be shooting at them or ...(unintelligible).

WESTERVELT: That was hardly the only incident of quick-trigger Iraqi security forces today. A group of mostly Sunni Arab Iraqi police scuffled with Iraqi soldiers from an all-Kurdish army unit at one polling site. Police fired warning shots in the air after a Kurdish soldier struck the senior election monitor at the site with a rifle butt after fearing that a Kurdish voter was being turned away from the polls. US forces quickly moved in and calmed the situation, but the heated confrontation underscores the simmering ethnic tensions here in Mosul. US forces tried to have as inconspicuous a footprint as possible today. That proved a huge challenge for soldiers driving around in 22-ton armored vehicles and with Army helicopters swooping overhead.

(Soundbite of helicopters in flight)

WESTERVELT: Western Mosul's US battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Kelley, concedes it's tough to be both low-key and maintain constant security support.

Lieutenant Colonel JEFFREY KELLEY (Battalion Commander): It's kind of hard to do in a Stryker vehicle. So what we've done this time, as much as possible we're staying away from the polling sites. If we do go by them it's just very briefly rolling by there so we can check out--see how things look like they're going, just to make sure it's an equitable and fair vote all the way around.

WESTERVELT: Mosul has seesawed between periods of calm and widespread insurgent bloodshed. Now residents are waiting to see just what the election results might bring next. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Mosul.

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