WATCH: Iraq's politicians are using every possible tool -- from Facebook to election songs to old-fashioned campaigning -- to lure voters to the polls for Iraq's second parliamentary election on March 7. (Video by RFE/RL & Reuters)
As campaigning winds up for Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election, the mood varies widely in different parts of the country. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondents in several cities describe how the upcoming election is viewed in their hometowns.
Sundus al-Ta'i in Ramadi: Poor security and lack of services are the primary issues affecting the way people view the March 7 elections in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.
Anbar in general and Ramadi in particular -- with their Sunni majority and strong tribal affiliations -- have witnessed a deterioration in their security situation in recent months. Terrorist attacks using car bombs, explosive suicide vests, and a variety of other explosive devices have targeted civilians and security personnel.
So, what we have seen here is an overriding sense of both fear and anticipation during the campaign period, as 306 candidates -- including 81 women -- representing 21 political entities compete for Anbar's 14 seats in the upcoming parliament.
But how many people will go the polls is a big question. As I mentioned, the dominant mood is disappointment with the security and public-services situation, and with the fact that the average citizen has not seen any positive changes within the local administration on any level, in the aftermath of the local council elections last year.
Those local elections, which were Iraq's last nationwide polls, did not attract more than 40 percent of the eligible voters in Anbar. They produced no changes worth mentioning that would now encourage more people to take part in the upcoming elections.
The frontrunner in Ramadi is the Al-Iraqiyah list, which consists of 20 political entities and is riding the wave of nonsectarianism and nationalism. Al-Iraqiyah's leaders include former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and senior secular Sunni politician Salih al-Mutlaq, who was banned as a candidate from the election by the government's controversial de-Ba'athification commission.
It is followed by the Iraqi National Coalition list, a mainly Shi'ite alliance including supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr and of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq comprising 38 political entities, while running third is the Iraqi Accordance Front, once the country's main Sunni alliance and now consisting of the Iraqi Islamic Party and some tribal leaders, which has four entities.
At the same time, Anbar voters are dissatisfied with and opposed to the State of Law coalition and its 36 political entities. Pictures of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who leads the coalition, have been vandalized in many parts of the city.
The hostility toward Maliki's coalition can be attributed to the local view that it has a somewhat extreme Shi'ite bias, and to claims that Maliki's government has deep connections with and cooperates with the Iranian government.
But equally important is the perception that Maliki's government has not provided any benefits to Anbar Province, which was burdened with being an Al-Qaeda stronghold until the (since assassinated) Sheikh Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah headed a tribal coalition in 2006 with the support of U.S. and Iraqi troops that rid the city of its armed gangs, bringing security back to the city.
Nehad al-Bayati in Kirkuk: The elections in multiethnic, multisectarian Kirkuk are not so much about its residents choosing their representatives for the national Iraqi parliament as they are an extension of the political struggle between the various Arab, Kurdish, and Turkoman factions to determine the national identity of the oil-rich province.
Here, candidates cannot count on any votes cast by voters not sharing their own origins, but there are some exceptions to the rule. Some of the smaller Arab and Turkoman lists are supported by the two main Kurdish parties -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Because of these exceptions, you can find some strange and remarkable campaign displays in the city center: the Kurdish flag alongside the banner of the Turkoman Front or pictures of Turkoman candidates alongside their Kurdish and Arab counterparts. There are even large pictures of competing candidates smiling at one another.
The strongest Kurdish entity is the Kurdish Coalition list, made up of the KDP and PUK. Its main competitor is the opposition "Goran" (Change) party, which has had its candidates' pictures and slogans torn down in most of the Kurdish areas. Goran accuses the Kurdish Coalition of being responsible for this vandalism.
There are 449 candidates competing for Kirkuk's 12 parliamentary seats, and unofficial figures indicate that about half of the eligible voters are Kurds. The Arab and Turkoman factions accuse the Kurds of "importing" thousands of Kurdish families in order to "Kurdify" Kirkuk. The Kurds claim that the incoming Kurdish families are originally from Kirkuk, and were expelled by Saddam Hussein's regime as part of his "Arabization" campaign in Kirkuk that began in the 1960s.
The security situation is stable and under the control of the Iraqi police forces. There are about 56 mobile police patrols operating within Kirkuk city, in addition to the "Asayesh" (Kurdish security) forces from both of the main Kurdish parties, which are unobtrusively spread out all over Kirkuk. U.S. forces have also stepped up their patrols within Kirkuk ahead of the elections.
Abd al-Hamid Zibari in Irbil: I live in the Zanko al-Jami'a district near Salah Al-Din University to the southeast of Irbil's city center. It is populated by an absolute majority of Kurds, most of whom hold higher university degrees and are mainly doctors, engineers, and university professors. The area is heavily targeted by campaign ads and posters supporting the ballot lists of the Kurdish Coalition (KDP and PUK); the Goran party; and the Kurdistan Islamic Union. In this district there are no campaign ads supporting the Iraqi Arab parties.
The people here are not concerned with the sectarian issue. They are mainly concerned with the issues related to Kurdish rights and nationalism, and with the Kurdistani identity of the disputed regions, such as Kirkuk Province. Optimism or pessimism with regard to the upcoming Iraqi elections are not an issue here; people believe that the Kurdish factions -- in spite of their internal differences within the Kurdish autonomous region -- will unite in the face of the Iraqi Arab factions with regard to the national rights of the Kurdish people.
Most of my neighbors believe that Kurdistan's future lies in independence, if the sectarian and ethnic conflict among the Iraqi Arab factions continues, and if the areas having a Kurdish majority are prevented from joining the autonomous region. The widespread belief here is that the Iraqi elections will enhance the Kurdish role, which is why everyone wants to take part in the voting.
Aysar al-Yasiri in Al-Najaf: My neighborhood, Al-Muhandisin, lies in the northern part of Al-Najaf. Most of my neighbors are middle-class employees or self-employed, and are exclusively Shi'a. The area does not have its own candidate, and the other Najafi candidates -- most of whom are also Shi'a -- rarely come here to meet the people.
There may be some candidates in other parts of the city who do move around, but the adopted procedure is that candidates convene public assemblies, inviting their clan and their friends and relatives to listen to their campaign programs.
There is a sense of optimism among my neighbors with regard to the upcoming elections, although some are refusing to participate. Many feel that the present government has provided them with the wherewithal to make a living and they don't want to see the reemergence of sectarian tensions in the country.
Generally, people are very pleased with regard to the preelection weeding out the Ba'ath influence; they feel that this is essential to their stability, as they are afraid of the Ba'ath Party's return. There are some candidates who are calling for the Ba'ath's elimination, and are banking on this demand in their campaigns.
The U.S. presence in the city is no longer as noticeable as it was in the past, now that U.S. forces have withdrawn from the towns and cities. However, these forces are still deployed outside the city and are still responding when called by the local government.
Layla Ahmad in Al-Sadr City, Baghdad: The countdown to balloting day has created much excitement has here in Talibiya district, an extension of eastern Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite Al-Sadr City.
The mosques in Talibiya have stirred up the fervor of some residents through their Friday sermons, calling for a broad participation in the election and exhorting people not to waste their opportunity to vote.
A recent survey of the district that included interviews with a large number of its residents showed that most of the families intend to take part in the election without hesitation. So, we expect the polling centers in the district will see a big turnout, as they did in last January's municipal elections.
The biggest campaigning activity in the district has been by Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Coalition of Shi'ite religious parties. Also campaigning are the Unity of Iraq alliance of Shi'ite Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani and Ahmad abu Rishah, a Sunni tribal leader; the Kurdish Coalition; and a number of entities that are participating in elections for the first time.
Posters depicting the candidates have been pasted onto buildings, and on the facades of some houses and businesses, as well as on lampposts, shops, and public parks. The candidates living in the district have been particularly active with distributing their posters, their slogans, and their campaign programs, and have sought to meet personally with the voters.