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January 2005 Constitutional Assembly Elections

On 30 January 2005 Millions of voters cast their ballots in Iraq's landmark election. The elections selected a 275-member assembly, which will select a new interim government and draft Iraq's constitution. In January 2005, 8.5 million Iraqis defied terrorist threats to vote for Iraq's first freely elected national and provincial governments. A national referendum on the constitution took place in October and elections to choose a permanent government were held in December.

For the first time in 50 years, votes were counted in what looked to be a free and open poll. It was an amazing sight on a bitterly cold morning. There were no cars on the roads, but instead hundreds of people, walking steadily toward the schoolhouses that were doubling as polling stations in Basra's eastern suburbs. Whole families went to cast their votes together. Groups of women clad in flowing black abayas smiled and waved as they passed on their way to the voting centers. Elderly people were pushed toward the polls in wheelchairs, or moved slowly there under their own power, step by step, leaning on canes and walkers.

As Sunday's election approached in Iraq, there was concern that voter turnout will be limited by violence and insurgent threats against voters. Many thousands of Iraqis living in other countries will also vote, although their turnout may be diminished by the limited number of voting centers available. The interim Iraqi government implemented several emergency procedures to enhance public safety during the voting period, observed Barham Salih. They include closing the borders and airports, imposing a countrywide evening curfew, placing a ban on civilian-carried weapons, and declaring Jan. 29-31 public holidays.

President Bush said Sunday's election in Iraq marked a turning point in that country's history. The president used his weekly radio address to highlight the importance of the Iraqi election in the spread of democracy and freedom. The opposition Democrats used their radio address to criticize the administration's pre- and post-war planning in Iraq.

Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi affirmed that the security plan drawn up to secure the elections should still be regarded as a success even though some polling centres were attacked. In an interview on Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya TV on 30 January, he described the voting day as the start of a new phase for Iraq and Iraqis. "I personally salute the policemen and army personnel, particularly the brothers affiliated with the 8th Armoured Police Brigade, who were deployed throughout Baghdad yesterday," said Allawi. (Al-Arabiya TV)Iraqi Al-Sharqiyah TV on 30 January showed live footage of Allawi entering a polling station in Baghdad minutes after it opened, showing his passport to an employee at the centre, filling in a voting form, and placing the form in a ballot box.

Al-Sistani representative Shaykh Abd-al-Hadi al-Karbala'i was shown on Al-Iraqiyah TV making a statement from his wheelchair. Al-Karbala'i said: "This is a happy and historic day for the Iraqi people, to be able after long decades of living under dictatorship, terrorism, prisons, and mass graves to express their will freely and choose those who represent their political, economic, and social will." Al-Karbala'i adds that he came to cast his vote despite his poor health to fulfil his "religious and national obligations." ( Many Arab media outlets praised the national elections in Iraq as having been a success for the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis defied the threat of terrorism to cast ballots in the first free elections held in the country in a half-century. However, there are differing opinions about whether the elections will lead to the spread of democracy in other Arab states.

Following the low turnout of Sunni Arab voters in Iraq's national elections Sunday, former Iraqi Governing Council member, Adnan Pachachi, initiated conciliatory talks with Sunni Arab groups that did not take part in the balloting. Many Sunni Arabs, including militants at the core of Iraq's raging insurgency, opposed the polls. Some refused the notion of holding elections while foreign troops still controlled many parts of Iraq. Others said the insurgency made voting so dangerous Sunnis would never be able to vote in numbers sufficient to have an impact at the polls. Others condemned the balloting as an effort to hand power over to the country's Shi'ites and Kurds.

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