UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Focus on election preparations in Fallujah
FALLUJAH, 28 January 2005 (IRIN) - As expatriate Iraqis cast their votes on Friday, two days ahead of polling in Iraq, many people in and around the city of Fallujah, 60 km from the capital, Baghdad, remain reluctant to give their backing to any candidates.
Nearly 200,000 people from Fallujah, which has a population of 300,000, were displaced in areas around the city. Now very few families have returned due to the poor living conditions.
Many are still displaced, living in very basic conditions in temporary camps around the city. Fallujah suffered for more than a month during battles between US troops and insurgents since 9 November 2004.
This led to the destruction of thousands of homes, shops and governmental offices and was considered by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) as a humanitarian disaster.
POLLING IN FALLUJAH
The Iraqi government said that the displaced would have the right to vote no matter where, they were along with those who had returned to Fallujah recently at polling stations under tight security from US troops and the Iraqi army.
Farid Ayar, deputy for the Higher Independent Electoral Commission (HIEC), told IRIN that elections would be held in Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra, east of the capital, and Mosul, north of Baghdad, but the location of polling stations in these areas would be kept secret until the day, to prevent attacks.
A specialised group on elections would be sent early morning to the camps where Fallujah residents are staying to speed up the process, he added. There are some 18,000 candidates runing for election on 256 political party lists.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, in a press conference in Salahdine city, 180 km from the capital, on Wednesday said that differences between Sunni and Shi'ites shouldn't be present in the country and called on people from Fallujah to participate in the election to show that they were part of Iraq. "Differences won't give us our daily bread," he said.
RELUCTANCE TO VOTE
Some residents in the destroyed city told IRIN that they were not going to vote, especially after what happened in Fallujah.
They said the election is going to play into the hands of the authorities who they believe don't care about their needs. "After nearly a month since US troops opened the doors of Fallujah again to residents nothing has been done to help us," Abbas al-Kubaissy, 56, a resident of Fallujah, told IRIN.
"Most families are without a home and they [Coalition forces and Iraqi government] just know how to help elections and not Fallujah," he added, explaining that the ceiling of his house had been blown off and that he did not have running water or electricity.
According to a senior official from the Ministry of Water Sources, they have been working hard in partnership with the US
Army Corps of Engineers to bring potable water to the city as soon as possible and that projects costing some US $11 million to rehabilitate the water and sewage system were underway.
In addition, officials from the Prime Minister's office said between US $2,000 and $10,000 would be offered to residents in Fallujah as compensation.
The power system in Fallujah needs to be completely rebuilt and will require huge investment, officials from the Ministry of Electricity told IRIN.
Muhammad Yacoub, a senior official from the Ministry of Reconstruction told IRIN that nearly 15,000 homes had been completely demolished in the city, out of approximately 50,000.
"You can say that Fallujah will be rebuilt again from scratch. It is really surprising but this is the reality and we just have to work hard to provide shelter and basic facilities for Fallujah residents," he explained.
IRCS officials explained that after the conflict ended on 22 December, they had difficulties in delivering supplies and that only one convoy had reached the city carrying food, blankets and potable water. They stressed that the residents and the ones who were encamped in areas around Fallujah require much more.
Lt. Col. Mike Scotch from the 1st Marine Force of the US army told IRIN that Fallujah was receiving special attention, but due to extensive damage in the city it was a process that required patience from the residents and that elections would take place in a very secure atmosphere.
"We will do our best to guarantee that the Iraqis in that area are safe when they go to choose the new government. They should do, it's a very important step in their lives," he added.
Scotch said that the process was very delicate but that they were preparing to provide safety and keep insurgents away from the area.
The deafening hum of planes can still be heard over Fallujah with a heavy presence of US troops. Children can be seen peering out from behind the few doorways that still exist and some can be seen playing with rubbish left before and after the conflict started. Families said they need basic supplies and are suffering in the cold weather due to a lack of power and kerosene to fuel heating systems.
Candidates haven't done any campaigning in the area due to insecurity and residents say they even don't know how the elections will proceed.
In addition, Sunni parties who dominate the area have called for a boycott of the election. Insurgents have sent out leaflets in the area around Fallujah saying that residents are prohibited to vote and those who do will be targeted.
"I believe that [many] people from Fallujah aren't going to vote because they haven't received anything from the government yet and this has increased their anger. We will guarantee security and hope they come to vote, but I doubt it," Sabah Kadham, deputy minister of interior, told IRIN.
Residents from the damaged city claim that the elections are too early in a place where they haven't seen any improvements.
"They are talking about elections, but to whom are we going to vote if even our Sunni brothers have withdrawn from the elections and until now we haven't received compensation for what we have lost in the battle?" Nur Aydan, a father-of-four encamped in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, northeast of the city since December, told IRIN.
"There is no one we can trust, I will stay in my tent with my family. At least I know I won't have doubts later in giving my vote to someone who won't do anything to help us," he maintained.
Themes: (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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