Vote Where, How, and for Whom?

BAGHDAD — With elections just four days away, many Iraqis are still uncertain how they will vote, or even where the polling stations are.

The only certainty appears to be violence. Another political assassination took place when judge Qais Hashim al-Shammari was killed with his brother-in-law as he was leaving his house in eastern Baghdad Tuesday.

At least six U.S. soldiers have been killed in Baghdad this week. One soldier died when a roadside bomb struck his patrol Monday. Five soldiers died in what the military described as a ”vehicle accident”.

A car bomb exploded the same day near the party headquarters of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi. At least five people, four of them police officers, died in the blast.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, party political offices were attacked Tuesday. At least one policeman was killed.

Amidst such incidents people are guessing games around polling stations and candidates. It appears now that polling stations will be located in school buildings. The high commission for elections of Iraq has still not announced the location of polling stations due to security fears, but many school buildings around Baghdad are being cordoned off with sand barriers, concrete blocks and razor wire.

”I feel unsafe in my own home now, even more than before,” said Hashim al-Obeidy, a retired engineer. A school building near his house is being prepared as a polling station. ”I watched the American soldiers building these barriers. And now I am afraid mortars will hit my home if the school is attacked.”

Standing outside his house in central Baghdad, he pointed to a row of large sand barriers outside an old yellow school building with damaged walls and cracked paint. ”They already severely damaged our school system, they haven’t rebuilt anything, and now they will create more destruction in the schools,” he said.

”I would be crazy to vote, it’s so dangerous now,” said 45-year-old guard Salman at another barricaded school building being prepared as a polling station. Most residents do not know yet which school they could go to vote in.

Many Iraqis continue to express frustration over what they see as illegitimate elections.

Prof. Shawket Daoud, a computer science specialist who now works for the government, said uncertainty over polling booths and the fear of violence was not the only problem. ”Why vote when we don’t even know who is running yet?”

More than 7,000 candidates on the electoral lists have opted to remain anonymous prior to polling day. At least eight political leaders thought to be candidates have been killed. Many others receive death threats.

But some Iraqis still say they will vote. ”I’ll vote because I can’t afford to have my food ration cut,” said Amin Hajar, 52, who owns a small auto garage in Baghdad. ”There is a rumour that if we don’t vote our ration will be stopped. And if that happened, I and my family would starve to death.”

He said that when he picked up his monthly food ration recently, he was forced to sign a form saying he had picked up his voter registration. He believes that the government may use this to track whether he votes or not.

This rumor has circulated broadly around Baghdad even though there appears to be no truth in it.

Abu Sabah, a grocery stall owner near the Karrada district of Baghdad says he is simply confused about the election. The elections feel rushed and a list of at least 83 coalitions of political parties with mostly anonymous candidates makes no sense, he says.

”Who says we should have elections for people we don’t even know during occupation, martial law and in a war zone,” he said. ”And why vote when we’re expected to vote for an entire list of candidates when we only know, if we’re lucky, one or two of their names?”