02/01/2005, 00.00
IRAQ
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We are no longer afraid after the elections, says Mosul priest

Attitudes have changed in the population. In neighbouring villages, where people could not vote, residents still want to cast their ballot.

Mosul (AsiaNews) – "We are no longer afraid after the elections," says Fr Ragheed Ganni, a Catholic priest in Mosul, a northern Iraqi city that has been the scene of numerous guerrilla attacks.

Two days after the historic January 30 election new attitudes are emerging. "In the city there was a great turnout," Father Ganni said. "I saw people lining up in front of polling stations, excited." However, in neighbouring villages, where lack of election material prevented people from voting, residents still want to cast their ballot.

Speaking to AsiaNews by phone Father Ganni said: "There is a psychological shift in the population. You are starting to feel the joy for the victory over terrorism. It is not just words but rather something quite palpable".

The streets are buzzing with people talking. "For the first time we felt free to choose, to express our preference without being told," he said. "Most of those who did not vote did so out of fear and because they wanted to boycott the election".

For his part, the city's Governor, Khasro Goran, stated that turnout was highest in Kurdish districts, but in the eastern part of the city "there were armed youth going around shooting in the streets and from rooftops, trying to scare people".

Along with Bishop Raho, Father Ganni returned to the Chaldean Bishop's residence which was damaged in an attack on December 9 which he witnessed.

"The situation is calmer now and we hope that the new government will bring greater security. We are optimistic," he said. "Yesterday a group of 40 terrorists were arrested and this makes us hope"

On Sunday, Bishop Raho celebrated mass in the chapel in the Bishop's residence but many could not go to church because of security measures prevent car traffic and so "only a few faithful prayed for peace".

Although convinced that things will get better, the Bishop has not made any official public statements to avoid that they may be used to further inflame the situation.

Uncertainty still reigns in the predominantly Christian and Kurdish villages around Mosul where voting has not yet taken place.

The Electoral Commission accepted a proposal by local officials to extend the vote to Monday, "but as of this morning," Father Ganni explained, "people have not yet voted".

"The desire to vote is great," he stressed. "Yesterday in Karrakosh and neighbouring villages people took to the streets to protest because it is not clear why couldn't vote."

It is unclear in fact why the election was not held there. "They say that the election material did not arrive for logistical and organisational reasons," Father Ganni said, "but it can't be a simple coincidence that the material arrived everywhere else in the country and the city but not in the Christian villages".

A spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Party, which ran in the election, said that the population of the villages around Mosul (Shaikhan, Bartila, Bashika and Karrakosh) is about 300,000 with 100,000 eligible voters.

Some officials in Mosul, including the Deputy Governor, think that "someone does not want the Kurdish electorate to vote out of fear that a massive Kurdish turnout might change the balance of power in the city". (MA)

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