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Baghdad is in election fever, pasted with posters of candidates whose names most people don't even know



Tigris tales

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Tuesday January 25, 2005

Source: The Guardian

A large sandstorm has covered Baghdad in a yellow shroud for the past five hours. The streets are still flooded with water and sewage from the morning's rain. The sky is shaking with explosive thuds every few minutes - or are those rumbles of thunder?

Hopping between sewage pools is a man in his early 50s, wearing an old blue jacket and a pair of torn brown trousers. His shirt is buttoned up and his grizzled hair laid flat on his head. Thick glasses rest on his nose.

His hand is clutching a thick bundle of papers. "Vote for the People's Alliance," he says to people as he hands them the fliers. On one side of the paper there is a drawing of a circle with sunrays coming out of it, and giving instructions on how to vote; on the other side there is a calendar.

The man is a communist, walking the streets of a conservative Shia district where old man Sistani is watching from every street corner.

I follow, keeping a good distance. Every time he approaches someone I close my eyes, expecting a gunshot or at least some sharp object to find its way to his head. It doesn't happen. Instead, people appear happy to stick the leaflets in their pockets. "Look, it has a calendar," one woman tells her friend as they admire the little leaflet. A couple of children follow the man for a couple of blocks and every time he hands out a leaflet they run in front of him asking for more.

"Do we have to vote for you if we take some of these?" asks one of the kids.

"No, no," says the man, waving his hands. "It is up to you to choose who you vote for."


he man - brave enough to hand out communist leaflets in the middle of bomb-torn Baghdad, but not brave enough to agree to have his name published in this paper - was trained as a teacher but lost his job after spending long periods in Saddam's prisons. For him, elections are the way to undo the miseries of his past.

"It doesn't matter who wins, it is the election that counts. When people go out and vote they will never allow a new Saddam to emerge again." He says it cheerfully.

Election fever is picking up. Almost every single wall in the city is covered by hundreds of posters, some pasted over others, giving a sense that Baghdad is itself one big collage of big heads, white beards and moustaches mingled with the Samsung phone ads.

Some posters show the face of an old man, Adnan Pachachi, who was a minister more than 35 years ago. He gives a warm smile from underneath a poster of Allawi which has been partly ripped off. Allawi, for some weird reason, has decided to use a photo of his eyes to represent his campaign motto: "strong leadership". I think the original plan was to have fierce-looking eyes chasing you wherever you go; instead, Allawi has the weaselly look of Tony Soprano.

By far the most distributed poster is that of the Shia list. The old man Sistani is again posted over walls, bus stations and restaurants. There are also hundreds of posters of men with big moustaches.

The Shias are handing out their leaflets after Friday sermons and in mosques; Christian liquor shops are handing Christian posters to anyone who buys two cans of beer; the reds are crazy enough to give out leaflets in the streets; every new Iraqi army vehicle is covered with posters of the minister of defence; and Saddam's big old murals are covered with one or another of the Shia clerics running for a seat.

But for most of the candidates, the voters will only see their names for the first time on election day. People don't know where to vote or how to do it. People are scared to vote, but a considerable number think it is like Saddam's good old referendums when the government cut the food rations of those who didn't vote.

The posters and murals are the only safe way of campaigning in these elections, because of the car bombs and assassinations. With less than a week to go the war has intensified, and every day's violence becomes the best material for the campaigners.

To defeat Allawi's "strong leadership" the Shias are putting up huge street murals showing the faces of two children, one a happy little infant and the other covered in blood and burns, a victim of one of the car bombs. "We will do what they failed to do," says the mural.

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Created by keza
Last modified 2005-01-25 06:15 PM

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