01/30/2005, 00.00
IRAQ
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"Finally free!": the cheer rising from Iraqi Kurdistan

Chaldean bishop enthusiastic about turnout.  However, ballots and ballot boxes did not arrive in Mosul.  Polls will open tomorrow.
Amadiya (AsiaNews) -- In Iraq's northern region, today's elections were a true success.  Monsignor Rabban Al Qas, Chaldean bishop of Amadiya, is not hiding his satisfaction:  "All those holding voting rights, used that right today", he told AsiaNews.  "Even elderly villagers, some with canes and wheelchairs, came in cars that had been put at their disposal, with volunteers and relatives helping them to reach the polling stations, sometimes even carrying them from the car.  I made my 8-seater van available and it was used to bring in at least 70 Muslims who live in the remotest villages, near Marsawa.  Over the past days, at least 2 and half feet of snow had fallen.  Yesterday, everyone was out shovelling snow to keep the roads clear." There is no particular security problem in Kurdistan, but authorities have been on the alert.  Yesterday and throughout the night, police and soldiers guarded the buildings (mainly schools) that are being used as polling stations.  The reactions of people have been enthusiastic: "We finally have freedom!  We can finally choose our government!".  It was the Kurds, along with the Shiites, who suffered most from disenfranchisement and violence under Saddam Hussein's regime.  One of the most-voted parties is the Kurdistan Alliance, which encompasses many Muslim, Zoroastrian and Christian groups.  A Sunni Muslim party was also up for election.  Apart from the official elections, there was also a sort of non-official referendum on Kurdistan autonomy.  According to various observers, an autonomous Kurdistan might create worries for nearby Syria and Turkey and risk the outbreak of civil war within the country.  Msgr Rabban tones down the question putting it into a different perspective: "Kurdistan as a whole," he says, "is in favour of unification with Baghdad in a federal structure." Less comforting news comes from the area of Mosul.  Monsignor Michael Maqdassi, Bishop of Al Qosh said today that ballots and ballot boxes had not yet arrived in the areas of Al Qosh, Karraksosh etc.  They likely did not arrive due to security problems on the roads resulting from terrorism.  Authorities are planning to open polling stations tomorrow. As for those who expressed doubts on the elections, Msgr Rabban says: "Democracy will arrive in full force in Iraq.  Today was a first step.  Those who want our destruction are foreign fundamentalists and Saddam's mercenaries.  We are all optimistic."
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