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Public-Sector Employees Go To The Polls Early In Iraq

Women Candidates In Iraq
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WATCH: Iraqi women are campaigning for the upcoming parlamentary elections -- some dressed all in black, others in business suits -- as this male-dominated country prepares to vote on March 7.

(RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi voters cast their ballots early in a number of provinces on the day for special voting (March 4), which included voting procedures for employees of the Iraqi security forces, hospital staff and patients, and prison inmates.

High Turnout In Diyala

About 50,000 voters eligible to vote in the special election in Diyala Province cast their ballots to elect the members of Iraq's next parliament.

Amir Latif, director of the office of the election commission in Diyala, said that the special voting took place in 179 polling stations, including 62 stations for "conditional" voting and 117 for "unconditional" voting, spread over 40 polling centers throughout the province.

He added that there were 45 centers for voting by police and soldiers, and polling centers at each of the three major hospitals in the province, as well as at the prisons in Miqdadiyah and Baquba.

The polling stations in Baquba saw a high turnout by employees of the security services.

Iraqi security personnel line up tovote in Dyala.
One police recruit said that he came "of his own free will" to elect his representatives to parliament and to see that the government runs efficiently and is able to serve the citizens. He added that he came to take part in the elections in order to direct the administration of the country, and ensure that the government looks after the interests of citizens and "preserves their security and dignity."

Staff at the Ali Bin Abi Talib election center, north of Baquba, said the center had received dozens of security personnel, and pointed out that there was a shortage of voting materials.

The director of a polling station in the center, Muhammad Hamid, had not received the special posters with the pictures of political blocs, and added that the arrival of the seals had been delayed until 9 a.m.

On the other hand, many security-service employees were unable to cast ballots because many names were missing in the voting records. Fatah Muhammad, a representative of one of the political blocs, said that many army and police personnel had not been able to cast their ballots.

For the conditional vote, a ballot was given to those whose names did not appear in the voting records, but they had to present their civil-status ID card, ration card, and their special identity card. However, many were not able to present all of these documents, and were unable to vote.

Illiterate Voters Receive Help In Dahuk

More than 21,000 employees of the military and Interior Ministry, as well as prisoners and hospital patients cast their ballots in the far northern city of Dahuk.

The director of the office of the Independent High Electoral Commission in Dahuk, Pierre Doski Tahir, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that the special-voting process had taken place in an "atmosphere of stability" and that they had observed good participation by voters. Tahir said the commission has opened 34 polling centers across Dahuk Province, hosting 82 ballot stations.

In the main Zarka correctional facility, the largest prison in the province, one of the prisoners said that "the process was going smoothly and under the eyes of observers of political blocs and civil-society organizations," adding that the only difficulty that confronted them was some of the prisoners not knowing how to read and write, which forced them to ask for assistance from one of the commission's staff members.

For his part, Abdul Baqi, coordinator of the Sun Network of Election Observers in Dahuk Province, said that the voting process took place in a good atmosphere and he did not witness any violations, though he added that the number of "observers from civil society organizations was very small, and they were not present at all polling stations."

Turkoman Candidates Cry Fraud In Kirkuk

Nearly 34,000 people participated in the special voting that took place in Kirkuk, where employees of the army, police, as well as health-care and prison workers voted in 12 polling stations, amid a turnout much larger than was seen in the previous elections.

Strict security measures were implemented by military and police forces to protect polling stations, and the commander of the 12th Brigade, Major General Abd al-Amir al-Zaidi, assured the public that proactive measures had been taken for months, and that Kirkuk would be secure.

Iraqi security soldiers and police vote in Dahuk.
Directors of the centers and representatives of election-monitoring and civil-society organizations stressed that the process was proceeding normally, and they could not recall seeing any violations, while the director of the Arafa election center, Qais Khurshid, said that many measures had been taken to facilitate the voting process.

Some factions of Turkoman parties complained of fraud in some polling centers, and Turkoman candidate Ali Mahdi said that some police officers were able to clean the indelible ink from their fingers and vote again.

But the director of the election commission in Kirkuk, Farhad Talabani, said the ink was not erasable, though critics had the right to register a complaint with the election commission.

Tight Security In Mosul

In the northern Nineveh Province, more than 80,000 employees of the security forces, hospitals, and prison inmates voted in 76 special polling centers set up around the province.

It seems that tight security precautions were imposed in Nineveh to ensure that the electoral process was conducted successfully and without any problems or irregularities. Colonel Ahmad Muhammad Aluka'a, director of individual protection in Nineveh, said that the security measures were very good, and there was cooperation between the security forces and the election commission, and the voting was carried out without any interference by any party.

Despite the administrative actions taken to ensure the success of the special voting in Nineveh, it was marred by some errors. A lack of access to the lists of names of some voters at the polling centers caused delays, as was the case in the northern Mosul district of Tal Afar.

One member of the Nineveh election staff said that the delays occurred because the polling centers had not received the voter lists yet, noting that the voting took place in an orderly fashion after the arrival of the lists.

According to some observers, a number of voters' names did not appear on the polling stations' lists, especially on the outskirts of Mosul. The Nineveh election commission said that routine procedures or administrative lapses could be behind the problem, but insisted that it did not hinder participation in the elections.

written by Nihad al-Bayati, Abdul Khaliq Sultan, Sami Ayash, and a correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in Mosul