Iraqi Elections

I’ve got a midterm in three hours, but the Iraqi elections is something that can’t be missed. Besides, I hadn’t really covered the October constitutional referendum, so this is my way of making up for it.

Big Media coverage

Neither CNN nor the BBC are leading with news from the elections as of 10:15am PST. However, both have links to coverage.

CNN’s coverage even relegates the reporting of violence to the second half of the story, noting in its opening (after the lead) that even Sunnis are turning out in large numbers:

Turnout was so heavy across the country that the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq gave provincial governments the discretion to keep polls open an hour past its 5 p.m. closing time. It was not clear where polling stations exercised this leeway.

Polling stations would close after the last person to arrive in line by 6 p.m. votes, IECI spokesman Farid Ayar said.

Also streaming to the polls were Sunni Arabs, who had stayed away from the polls in previous elections only to find they barely had a voice in government.

The high turnout was remarkable, considering curfews, bulked-up security, border closings, road closures and traffic bans across the country. In some cases, voters had to take long walks to get to polls. Many were seen happily thrusting their purple ink-stained fingers at photographers — the colored fingers a symbol of Iraq’s free elections.

The BBC was even more muted in its reporting, noting only the following:

Voting was extended by an hour in some areas because of the high turnout, Iraq’s election commission said.

Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the last election in January, appear to have participated in large numbers, even in insurgent strongholds.

Despite tight security, several incidents of violence were reported, but voting was not seriously disrupted.

Not all at the Beeb were trying so hard to keep the good news impersonal, however. Hugh Skyes, reporting from Baghdad, reported a festive air, and even expressions of real hope from Iraqis:

Men and woman came, many carrying small children, and in the street outside the school they formed silhouettes, in swirls of dust on a warm autumn day in Baghdad.

One voter said: “This is stability, at last”.

Another, with tears in his eyes, told me: “This is the beginning of a new Iraq. I am so happy.”

FOX News, as expected, led with coverage on the elections:

The high voter turnout was due, in part, to large numbers of Sunni Arabs showing up at some of the country’s 33,000 polling stations; many Sunnis boycotted elections earlier this year. Many Iraqis had waited until the last minute to vote, to make sure the security situation was under control before they left their homes for the polls.

An imam in Ramadi was heard over a mosque loudspeaker saying: “God will bless you with a great life if you go out and vote. This is your last chance to vote.”

“One of the most memorable things I saw were families, mothers and fathers taking their children to the polling stations. It was clear everyone knew what was at stake here and I think it was quite successful,” USAID Mission Director Dawn Liberi told FOX News from Baghdad. “All the polls show Iraqis think democracy is the No. 1 priority for them … they want to get on with their lives, they don’t want to be bombed, they don’t want to be hostages to an insurgency.”

Some Iraqis said Thursday’s vote was a symbolic gesture of democracy that had been suppressed for years under the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein.

“This is the day to get our revenge on Saddam,” said Kurdish voter Chiman Saleh, a Kirkuk housewife who said two of her brothers were killed by the ousted regime. Voter turnout was brisk in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, especially in Kurdish districts.

The elections was a headliner even at Lemonde. My French is quite limited, but the following sentence seems to corroborate the higher-than-expected showing for the vote:

Selon un responsable de la Commission, la participation a été “très large” dans toutes les provinces, même dans les régions sunnites qui avaient boycotté le dernier scrutin de janvier.

Embedded coverage

Embedded reporters are finding, not to my surprise, that things are not exactly the same in Iraq as they are portrayed by mainstream media.

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., of National Review, discovers a festive air:

As Iraqis queue up at polling stations, some of the scenes look more like a series of regional block parties than what most Westerners would associate with an election day. Children can be seen waving flags or playing soccer. Adults are cheering, clapping hands, beating drums, singing, dancing, and waving at passing U.S. and Iraqi military vehicles. There simply seems to have been more energy in the run-up to this election than in previous ones. And why not?

December 15, 2005, is a day of “national celebration, a day of the national unity, and of victory over the terrorists and those who oppose our march toward democracy,” announced Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

An embedded reporter from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner offers more drama of distinctions between reporting and reality:

Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war.

Then think again.

I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong.

Maybe not wrong, but certainly different than the picture in my head.

There is garbage on the streets, in yards, in open areas. There is a stench. There is grime. But there are also people.

They are vivid, unlike their surroundings. They are excitable and friendly and conversational. They live in conditions I hope I don’t have to experience in my own life. Yet, if my neighborhood saw two wars, the breakdown of the national and local governments and decline of municipal services, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be in the same boat.

I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture. One soldier mentioned it might be a good idea to clean up the trash around one polling place, and another commented on the status of women in the culture, but they were nothing but respectful, friendly and buddy-buddy with the Iraqis they mingled with today.

And this is good stuff.

I’ve listened to the soldiers and Parrish about the missing pieces of the puzzles that don’t reach home. My selfish, journalistic drive immediately thinks “Perfect. A story that hasn’t been told. Let me at it.”

But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one. It takes a minute to wrap my mind around it, as a news junkie that became a news writer. The great, career-making, breaking news stories usually don’t have happy endings; they usually revolve around disturbing news, deceit and downfall. Nasty political doings. Gruesome crimes and murders. Revealing secrets.

But I’ve come upon something that is none of those. Not this aspect of it. There are politics to this war and controversies and investigations. But there is another side.

Big Blog coverage

The bigger bloggers are running linkfests, essentially, and updating as they get more news. Here are some that I’ve been skimming: Instapundit, Gateway Pundit, Publius Pundit (just keep scrolling), and Belmont Club.

Iraqi bloggers

Omar of Iraq the Model has a post describing the event firsthand up at Pajamas Media, and has absolutely the best coverage, complete with pictures, at his usual site.

Hammorabi has posted best wishes, but is not liveblogging. Riverbend, a Sunni blog, also has a few words to say about the elections.

That’s it for now. Good luck, Iraq! May your future be a prosperous one, insh’allah!

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

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