by HASAN KANBOLAT
Iraq went to the polls on March 7 to elect its 325-seat parliament. There were 6,200 candidates running for parliament, and Iraqis cast their votes at 52,000 polling stations in 10,000 polling centers between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
The reason why there were so many polling stations and about 400 voters assigned to each station was to minimize election fraud. Before the elections on March 7, it was suggested that all ballot boxes were collected in a center without being opened and that the counting should be conducted at that center. But, at 9:00 p.m. on March 7, it was decided that votes should be counted at city centers. Voting had actually started on March 4, when members of the military, police officers, prison inmates, patients and physicians cast their votes. On March 5, 6 and 7, Iraqis living in 21countries cast their votes. In Turkey, one polling center was established in Ankara and three polling centers were set up in İstanbul, and about 7,000 Iraqis cast their votes in these centers.
Seventy percent of the votes were allegedly counted in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the leading politician in 9 out of 18 provinces. Given the fact that three provinces are in the Kurdish-controlled region, it can be said that Prime Minister Maliki --i.e., the State of Law Coalition -- has taken nine of the 15 provinces, while Iyad Allawi -- al-Iraqiya -- is in the lead in six. It is said that Maliki secured 40 percent and Allawi 28 percent of the national vote while the Iraqi National Alliance of the Shiites had a share of 17 percent. If the final breakdown of the votes ended up this way, a coalition led by al-Iraqiya and the Iraqi National Alliance can be established. The Kurdish Alliance is in the has the most votes in Kirkuk. It is followed by al-Iraqiya and then by the State of Law Coalition. The province of Ambar was won by Allawi by securing 79 percent of the votes. Maliki obtained 70 percent of the votes in Sadr City, the most crowded Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. In this way, he undermined the progress of Allavi in Baghdad, which will produce 68 seats.
As for the performance of the Turkmen in Iraq, Erşad Salihi obtained 28,000 votes in Kirkuk and Ali Haşimi 12,000 votes in Salahaddin, and both of them managed to enter parliament. It seems likely that the Turkmen will be able to send three candidates to parliament, including İzettin Dele and Nebil Harbo from Mosul. Women candidate Müdriki Ahmet, running from Mosul, exhibited a surprising performance, and she is expected to enter parliament. The election of Nermin Al-Mufti from Baghdad and Jala Naftaji from Kirkuk is still risky.
Violence has been on the rise since March 4. A further increase in violence was expected. On the night of March 6, US facilities in Kirkuk received mortar fire all through the night. Mortar fire went into the green zone, and there were clashes. However, violence largely stalled on election day. Violence has become a daily part of life in Iraq, and people start to consider the death of 50-100 people every day normal. The faces of the people who went to the polls in Baghdad and Kirkuk on March 7 did not show any uneasiness. The elderly people with wheelchairs and parents carrying their nicely dressed children had come to cast their votes.
Although vehicles were banned on election day, this rule was lifted at 11:00 p.m. Young Kurds continued to form convoys carrying the Goran and Kurdish flags in the settlement located between Tuzhurmatu and Kirkuk. Actually, the Kurdish presence showed itself starting from Tuzhurmatu with flags decorating every pole and street. It is claimed that Kurds have been carrying Kurdish voters from the northern parts of the country to Kirkuk via Altunköprü, where they showed them how to vote in the stands set up for this purpose.
Indeed, even on election day, buses continued to arrive in Kirkuk, and the 12th division of the Iraqi army, located in Kirkuk, finally stopped the buses and did not allow them to enter the city.
Kirkuk is a very important city for Turkmen. Beyond being just a city, it is the symbol of national existence. The Turkmen presence was also felt with their flags and election posters from Tuzhurmatu to Kirkuk. While Kurds only promote the Kurdish identity, Turkmen tend to promote their identity with reference to the integrity of Iraq. Thus, their flags are accompanied by Iraqi flags.
Iraq has adopted and loves democracy. The existence of violence does not lend support to anti-democratic options. The awareness of belonging to Iraq, the idea of integrity and unity of the country and strengthening the center without promoting a dictatorship are gaining ground. The fact that it is now fashionable among members of the military and intellectuals to wear brass badges showing the Iraqi geography with an inscription “Iraq” on them is the best proof of the rising awareness of being Iraqi.