Thursday, January 13, 2005

And you don't vote ?

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 12 - There are mysterious knocks on his door at
night. His friends ask him not to visit. He declines to allow even his first
name to be published.

This shadowy figure, a young Sunni Muslim from Baghdad, is neither spy nor criminal. He is an election worker helping Iraq prepare for its historic national poll, scheduled for the end of the month.

Threatened, attacked, kidnapped and killed, Iraq's election workers are finding that being at the forefront of the electoral process means surviving the frontlines of an insurgency determined to stop it.

Things are so bad that one of the officials from the Independent Electoral Commission, Adil al-Lami, compared the workers to a clandestine political movement. "They function like an underground," he said in an interview.

This particular worker says he does it to serve his country. "There are a
lot of people around the world who also would fight for what I do," he said
after finishing his day recently at the election commission. "I believe in


"We are definitely the targets of terrorists," said Muhammad, the director of an election office in Iraq who travels with bodyguards but agreed to be quoted only by his first name for security reasons.

This week, numerous attacks on election workers and their offices were testimony to the dangers. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber attacked the election office in Basra, in the south, but killed only himself. An election official was kidnapped in Baquba, north of Baghdad. And militants in Diyala attacked the house of another election official, Amer Majeed, he and the police said in a report in the newspaper Azzaman. There were no casualties in the attack, which was repelled by guards, Mr. Majeed said.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said "some pockets" of Iraq would be too dangerous for voters, the first time he has publicly acknowledged this.

--- EDITED ---

One Iraqi man said he slept at an office related to the commission's work rather than go home. The only one who knows what he does is his mother. "All I need is for at least one person to know what I believe in, in case I lose my life," said the man, who is in his twenties.

Some Shiite workers and voters said they were inspired by Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who backs the elections. "There will always be the possibility of a car bomb or gunmen, but we have got to vote anyway," said Um Ahmed, 57, the mother of the lawyer who had just resigned. "This is what our religious leaders say we must do, because it will empower us."

But recent attacks in Baghdad have added to the uncertainty over how safe polling centers will be for voters on election day, let alone for the workers in the days leading up to the election.

---EDITED --

Two weeks earlier, in Baghdad's Mansour district, masked gunmen attacked an
elections office with pistols and machineguns, killing three people and injuring
another man who later died.

The attacks disclosed the circumstance by which the names of many of Iraq's election workers can be made public: in death, when they appear in newspaper obituaries. When the electoral commission published a notice in newspapers after the deaths, it said the men were "martyred," carrying out a "sacred" mission.


Dody G.