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Sunni Iraqis in Baghdad enclave left off voter rolls

Some Sunnis in Adhamiya are unable to find their names on the rolls or are registered to vote in distant precincts. They blame the Shiite-led government for their problems.

February 01, 2009|Monte Morin

BAGHDAD — The old man wore a red, checkered headdress and a frown as he left the polling station and shuffled down a bustling street that smelled of roasted meat and sewage.

"I have a complaint!" he yelled. "I didn't find my name."

It was a lament that a group of Western election observers would hear often Saturday afternoon in Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab enclave of Baghdad that was once a hotbed of insurgent activity.

Within the high walls of Al Neimaan secondary school for girls, scores of Iraqis clustered outside classrooms that had been converted into polling stations and waited for their chance to cast blue, poster-sized ballots.

Among them, however, were smaller groups of people who waved yellow complaint forms and said they had either been left off voting rolls or been registered to vote in distant precincts.

"We came here for an election," complained a young man who was told he had to vote at another station. "This is a disappointment."

Some accused Shiite Muslim government officials of deliberately deleting from the rolls those voters with traditionally Sunni names such as Omar, Othman and Abu Bakr.

"People with these names are missing from the list," said Mukdad Hassan, a college professor and polling center volunteer. "That looks bad to us. We're sure it's the Iraqi government that did this."

In previous elections, Iraqis were registered at more than one polling site to allow them flexibility in voting. Officials now say the practice was a mistake and opened the door to people voting more than once. During this election, Iraqis are permitted to vote at one designated station.

Polling officials said about 1,000 to 2,000 people were turned away from polling stations in Adhamiya because they were not registered.

"We've had some problems," acknowledged Hussein Najib, an Adhamiya polling official. "Many people came and didn't find their names."

In the afternoon, entire families began appearing at polling centers.

"Iraqis, they love dolma at lunch," said another polling official, referring to the Middle Eastern dish of rice wrapped in grape leaves. "They hit a good lunch, and then they really started coming in to vote."

The number of yellow complaint forms swelled.

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monte.morin@latimes.com

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