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For Whom to Vote? Iraqi Culture Adjusts to Free Elections

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2005 – Iraqi police cars sporting stickers urging people to vote for a particular list of candidates are part of the pre-election scene here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
An Iraqi police vehicle outside a polling station sports a sticker in the windshield of local popular cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. While electioneering is officially discouraged for the Iraqi police, some didn't get the message. Photo by Jim Garamone

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

One reason is that Iraq government, at this stage of its development, doesn't have anything like the U.S.'s Hatch Act, which forbids U.S. federal employees from engaging in partisan political processes. While Iraqi leaders have tried to separate the police from politics, they haven't been totally successful.

There is no history of a secret ballot in Iraq, military officials here said. Saddam Hussein held regular mandatory elections and everyone was given one choice: Vote for him.

The idea of having a choice and a voice in running the country is something new. But aspects of Iraq are still very hierarchical, and many young people are asking those they respect whom to vote for.

Many turn to their religious leaders, others to superiors, others to provincial or tribal leaders. Many Iraqis view the police as a source of voting wisdom. While most understand they cannot advocate for a particular candidate, some just can't help it.

The problem is not as pervasive in the Iraqi army or the public order battalions - at least around Baghdad. But young soldiers and police officers want guidance from their superiors. Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Jawad Romi Aldaini, commander of the Iraqi 2nd Brigade of the 6th Division, said when his soldiers ask him for whom they should vote, he says "anyone you want."

But, said the general through an interpreter, if they persist, he says: "Call your mother and vote for who she says to."

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