Early Voting Starts in Iraq

President Bush has gotten no accolades from the American left, its duplicitous media, or the world as a whole for the success of the campaign in Iraq.

From the start, he was made to be a fool, an indecisive Commander-in-Chief, with no future vision for Iraq or its success as a new nation.

However, yet another glimpse of hope springs forth from the fledgling democracy.

From the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD: Soldiers, hospital patients and even prisoners filled ballot boxes Wednesday in special early voting for provincial elections that, while not directly threatening the U.S.-allied government, could set up showdowns for the Iraqi leadership.

Also at stake is the reputation of Iraqi forces leading a massive anti-terrorism clampdown for the main voting Saturday.

A smooth election without significant violence could encourage supporters of a fast-paced withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by next year, but any major voting irregularities or bloodshed could raise worries about the readiness of Iraqi institutions.

There were reports of only sporadic attacks during the early voting – called to allow the police and military units to cast ballots before being deployed for the full-scale vote.

It also included prisons and many hospitals, including a maternity ward in the southern city of Najaf where Salwa Majid filled out a ballot with one hand and cradled her baby son, only hours old, with the other.

“It’s my duty to vote for a better Iraq,” she said, showing off her index finger tinted with purple ink – used in Iraq to identify voters.

In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, hundreds of soldiers in camouflage uniforms streamed into an elementary school to stuff their paper ballots into clear plastic bins.

“We have come here to vote as a kind of defiance to the terrorists,” said Sergeant Abdul-Jabar Khalf.

Later, in Kirkuk Province, gunmen killed two police officers guarding a school used as an early election center, said the police and medical officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

In prisons across Iraq, inmates in orange jump suits filed in one by one to vote.

Faraj al-Haidari, head of the election commission, said voting was open to any detainee awaiting trial – even those accused of insurgent attacks or links to Al Qaeda in Iraq – but those sentenced to more than five years in prison were not eligible. The rules also covered thousands of Iraqis still held in U.S. military custody, he said.

More than 14,400 candidates – about 3,900 of them women – are competing for 444 seats on governing councils in 14 of the 18 provinces in Iraq. The central authorities in Baghdad still control the nation’s overall policies, but the councils have wide authority to cut commercial deals and set spending priorities.

“We want a country that unites us, not one that tears us apart,” said Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in a campaign stop for political allies in southern Iraq. “Any gap in Iraq’s unity will open the gates of hell for us all.”

The election outcome, however, could put serious strains on Maliki’s Shiite-led government.

In the Shiite south – the political center of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime – the biggest political party is hoping to increase its clout at the expense of Maliki’s backers.

A strong election showing by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council could be used as a springboard to battle Maliki’s bloc for leadership later this year.

The Iraqi Council, which maintains ties with both Iran and the United States, hopes to build an autonomous Shiite region modeled on the Kurdish autonomy in the north. Maliki and his Washington allies strongly oppose such a move, fearing it would further fragment Iraq and open the door for greater Iranian influence.

Haidari, the election official, said initial reports indicated participation in the early vote was highest in the south – where the turnout for the full election Saturday will be closely watched since it falls just before an annual Shiite pilgrimage that could keep voters away.

Sunni groups, too, are jockeying with long-term goals in mind.

The most powerful political newcomers are the Sunni tribes that used their private militias to rise up against Al Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents in a critical turning point of the war. The sheiks now hope to parlay their fame into provincial election seats – which could undercut rival Sunnis who have worked out accommodations with Maliki.

Despite a sharp drop in overall violence in Iraq, security forces are taking full precautions. Measures include a vehicle ban during the vote and double-ring cordons around voting stations.

On Wednesday, the police frisked fellow officers outside voting places.

U.S. forces are taking only a support role, but have supplied additional material and other aid. The U.S. military said it delivered 200 concrete barrier and a 10-meter, or 30-foot, watchtower this week to a ballot holding center and voting site in northwest Baghdad.

Not all Iraq is taking part in the elections. Voting is scheduled for later in the three Kurdish-ruled provinces. In Kirkuk Province, the main voting was postponed indefinitely because its various ethnic groups could not agree on a power-sharing formula. But the special voting occurred Wednesday in Kirkuk for security forces.

And for the leftists and their media hounds: Here’s a purple finger in your eye.

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