Fallujah exchanges bullets for ballots
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Nearly 40 per cent of Fallujah's residents turned up at polling stations during Saturday’s provincial elections, in the hope that the results will mean significant improvements to daily life in the Iraqi Sunni stronghold.
Located in the heart of what was once called “the triangle of death,” Fallujah is a town that became synonymous with the some worst violence of the Iraqi insurgency following the bloody aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
An overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim city in the sprawling western Iraqi province of al Anbar, Fallujah today is a lot quieter. Credit for this rests, in large part, with the tribal guards units known as Awakening councils that were set up to drive out Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq.
But Fallujah remains one of Iraq’s least foreigner-friendly cities.
Close to 40% of al Anbar’s population voted in Saturday’s provincial elections, hoping that the results would bring significant improvements to daily life.
The turnout was in sharp contrast to the 2005 general election, which was boycotted by Iraq’s Sunni minority. In 2005, voter turnout in the province of al Anbar was a mere 0.5%.
“What does the Iraqi citizen expect from the state today? Security and services and he is in the process of winning access to them,” says Major Abid Hadi, head of the Iraqi police intelligence services.
But the police official’s rhetoric might be overly optimistic. Certainly the thick walls securing Fallujah’s police installations are testimony to the fact that security in this city is still precarious.
The power of the ballot
While Sunday’s elections have been widely hailed as free and fair by the international community, Awakening council chiefs in Anbar are crying foul about the process. Tribal chiefs accuse their main rival, the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), a Sunni religious party, of voting irregularities.
But that has not discouraged voters who are starting to believe in the power of the ballot.
“Each of us voted for his or her candidate,” says Abdel Wahab el Kebir, a Fallujah shopkeeper. “If the economy - and the infrastructure - does not improve, voters will make a different choice next time. And it won’t be a bad one, inshallah!”
Things are better for now. But security in Fallujah is fragile and much depends on how the political losers in the provincial elections act after the results are out. Sunnis are still hoping to win back some of the power they lost in 2003, when their fellow Sunnite, Saddam Hussein, was ousted from power by the US invasion.
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