02/02/2009, 00.00
IRAQ
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Provincial elections in Iraq: no incidents at polling places. Allies of prime minister in lead

The elections for the renewal of the provincial councils proceeded smoothly. 51% of eligible voters went to the polls. In Mosul as well, there were no episodes of violence against the Christian community, the target of kidnappings and persecution. January of 2009 was the month with the fewest killings since 2003, and violence has fallen by 42% since December of 2008.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Elections for the provincial councils have been held without any significant incidents, as scheduled for last January 31 in Iraq. According to early information from the independent electoral commission, turnout was 51% - slightly lower than the 55.7% for the elections in 2005 - but there were no attacks or episodes of violence.

Sources for AsiaNews in Iraq confirm that even in Mosul, in the northern part of the country, the theater of a violent anti-Christian campaign in recent months, there were no security problems. "The elections represent a significant first step," the source recounts, "toward the process of creating democracy in Iraq." There were no slogans "praising religion," and attention was centered on "candidates who promoted concrete projects in favor of the population, like schools, hospitals, electricity production, which, still today, is often unavailable during the day."

The unfolding of the elections has induced "cautious optimism" in view of "the elections at the end of the year: this is the true testing ground on which the country and the political class will have to demonstrate that they have overcome divisions, disagreements, extremism. A secular and balanced parliament, not characterized by a confessional or religious identity, will be of assistance for the stabilization of Iraq." "It is too soon to claim victory," he concludes, "but the signs of hope are there."

"We decided to vote," one woman explains, "in order to get rid of the feeling of fear that we have in our hearts. We left our land and our homes out of fear, but now we believe in the honesty of the government when it says that it will do everything it can to guarantee the full rights of all Iraqis."

The official results should be released in the next few days, but the early results show that the allies of prime minister Nouri al Maliki are in the lead in the Shiite majority areas. Unlike the elections in 2005, there has been a boom in the turnout in Sunni areas. Some of the eligible voters were unable to vote because of the strict security measures at the voting booths, or because of difficulties related to registration. These problems do not, however, affect the positive general result of the voting. The international community has also hailed the outcome of the election.

In the area of security, it must be noted that January of 2009 was the month with the lowest number of attacks and killings since the fall of Saddam in 2003: official sources say there were 191 deaths among civilians, the army, and the police, a reduction of 42% compared to December of 2008.

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