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IRAQ ELECTIONS

Voting for change in Mosul

Kurds and Arab alike, fed up with sectarian conflict, turn out in hopes of breaking from the past.

February 01, 2009|From a Special Correspondent

MOSUL, IRAQ — Hisham marched to the polls in Mosul eager for change -- the last four years had been disastrous.

The line moved briskly and people smiled and laughed, desperately seeking a break with the recent bloody past. After Sunni Arabs boycotted elections in 2005, a Kurdish-led government had ruled this northern city and surrounding Nineveh province, and violence spiraled out of control.

Hisham, an Iraqi Kurd, had watched as his city fell apart. His Kurdish, Christian and Shiite friends fled, but he resolved to stay on. Slowly, he came to resent the Kurdish parties that governed Mosul.

So Hisham voted Saturday in favor of the Arab nationalist Hadba party. He saw the vote as a way to bring the city back to what it was before 2004, when he lived in peace with all his neighbors -- before Islamic militancy and ethnic tensions ravaged Mosul. He did not worry about Hadba's reputation for vitriolic rhetoric against the Kurdish parties. He was just desperate to find a way out of the current morass.

On his walk home from voting, Hisham watched children play soccer in the street and invited friends over for billiards. He didn't hear an explosion Saturday, a welcome change from most days.

Others shared his joy, thankful for a respite from danger, and dreamed that Mosul might soon improve, that the city might recapture its cosmopolitan past.

"We have voted today in order to participate in decision making in our city and to develop the city," Abdullah Hameed said.

West of Mosul, in the Kurdish-controlled Arab district of Zimar, Abu Noor never thought he would vote in elections. He was sure they would be marred by fraud -- that the Kurds would harass him and intimidate him at the polling center.

In fact, he didn't decide whether he would vote until the last minute. He called friends and asked them what they thought. They assured him that he should; that this time, it was a break from the past.

On Saturday morning, he headed out in a convoy of cars with his wife and two brothers. They had to pass through three checkpoints, but nothing happened. Abu Noor sounded elated after voting for the first time in his life: "I feel relief."

--

Times staff writer Ned Parker in Najaf, Iraq, contributed to this report.

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