The first person to vote in Babylon in the Iraqi parliamentary election was 65-year-old Jasim
Hameed, who is wheelchair-bound.
"I'm here at this early hour because I want to challenge the terrorists who want to kill the
democratic process in Iraq and I want to encourage the healthy people to vote," Mr. Hameed
Because Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaida in Iraq, threatened to kill those who cast
ballots, Mr. Hamid was risking his life.
In a communique issued on election eve, Mr. Zarqawi vowed to "ruin the democratic wedding of
heresy and immorality."
The threats were not idle. The police in Babil province caught two brothers with 72 mines and
IEDs who planned to plant them on the ways to the polling stations, reported an Iraqi
correspondent on the scene. Despite the threats, turnout was so great the hours for voting
had to be extended in many places to accommodate people waiting in line.
Early estimates are turnout approached two-thirds of registered voters. That's higher than it
had been for the election of an interim parliament in January or for the referendum on the
constitution in October, and much higher than it usually is for U.S. presidential elections.
Turnout was higher chiefly because of a massive turnout among Sunni Muslims, many of whom had
boycotted the first two elections.
"It's the first time I have tasted the freedom to express my view," Asmeal Nouri, 60, a Sunni
Arab living in Kirkuk, told a reporter for Reuters.
And despite the threats, the mood of Iraqi voters was festive, said W. Thomas Smith, a former
Marine and paratrooper embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq.
"Adults are cheering, clapping hands, beating drums, singing, dancing and waving at passing
U.S. and Iraqi military vehicles," he said.
The high turnout among Sunnis was a repudiation of al Qaida. And the fact that the voting
proceeded with few incidents was the clearest indication yet of the terror group's diminishing
At several polling places in al Anbar province, security against al Qaida was provided by Sunni
militias once allied with the terror group, a split in the "insurgency" too wide for even our
news media to ignore.
Web logger Bill Roggio, embedded with the U.S. Marines, reported turnout was high in the "Wild
West" town of Barwana, from which al Qaida was evicted only two months ago.
"The poll site sits right beneath the now destroyed Barwana bridge, where Zarqawi terrorists
routinely executed residents for not conforming to their perverse interpretation of Islam," Mr.
Roggio said. "Barwana, once part of Zarqawi's self declared 'Islamic Republic of Iraq,' is now
the scene of al Qaida's greatest nightmare."
"The Iraqi people are seeing that the impossible might become the possible after the election,"
Sergeant First Class Larry Bull of the 3rd Infantry Division told Mr. Smith.
But whether Iraq becomes a stable democracy depends almost as much on how Iraqis voted as that
Iraqis chose from 231 different lists, so it will be a week or so before we know who won, and a
month or so before a new government is formed, because it is extremely unlikely that any one
slate won anywhere close to a majority of the 275 seats in parliament.
If the voting divided sharply along sectarian and ethnic lines, the new government could be
crippled at birth.
The interim government is dominated by a coalition of 18 Shia religious parties some with
uncomfortably close ties to the mullahs in Iran which together won half the vote in January.
That percentage will fall, mostly because of the increased Sunni participation, but also
because the government of Ibrahim al Jaafari is widely viewed among Iraqis as inept and
corrupt. The Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, the leading Shia cleric in Iraq, endorsed the Jaafari
slate in January, but withheld his blessing this time.
"Although I am a religious man, all religiously based groups are completely out as far as I am
concerned," said Iraqi Web logger Alaa, a Shia.
One key is how many Shia joined Alaa in voting for secular Shias such as former prime minister
Iwad Allawi, Ahmed Chalabi, and Mithaal al Alusi.
The other is how the Sunnis voted.
"What gives me hope is that most of the Sunni Arabs I've talked to...have voiced support for
Allawi because of his stance supporting a united Iraq," Maj. Mike Doherty of the 3rd Infantry
Division told Mr. Smith.