Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Adnan Ismael raced to the back of the
campaign bus carrying supporters of the Kurdistan
Democratic Party and frantically pulled aside a dark
blue curtain so he could see out.
Hundreds of honking cars were following behind in an
impromptu rolling celebration late Thursday
afternoon through this ancient city. Passengers hung
out of vehicles, shouting and waving the yellow flag
of the KDP and the red, white and green flag of the
Kurdish semiautonomous region here in northern Iraq.
Ismael turned from the window, a stunned look on his
Inside the bus, a group of aging, bewhiskered former
guerrilla fighters struck up an old revolutionary
song. Their eyes brimmed with tears as they sang in
husky voices: ``Our flag is waving high in the sky.
We are still alive. The Kurds are alive. There is no
cannon that will break our will.''
``We were dreaming for this day to come,'' said
Ismael, the KDP leader for Erbil's Tajil district,
who darted back and forth to get a look at the scene
unfolding on every side of the bus. ``Now we will
all choose our representatives for the future. Every
Kurd wishes to see this day.''
On the last official day for campaigning before
Sunday's national elections, candidates and their
supporters here in the Kurds' administrative capital
blasted old Kurdish songs from loudspeakers at party
headquarters, waved to passing cars from plastic
chairs lined up on sidewalks and raced through the
streets in caravans with flying banners. Unlike in
many parts of Iraq, where fears of insurgent
violence and doubts about the political process have
muted voter enthusiasm, there was nothing tempered
about the elections here, where voters will help
select members of a new National Assembly, choose
regional councils and pick a Kurdish parliament.
Throughout Erbil, there was a sense that something
big was about to happen, as if the whole city had
turned out for a wedding party.
``I am very happy,'' said Faruq Nabil, 24, a laborer
with thick black hair and green eyes. ``Since I was
born, this is the first time I will go and elect the
government. I want to thank Mr. George W. Bush for
his efforts in making this happen.''
Sarbaz Qader, who owns a small bicycle repair shop,
said he was overwhelmed with joy. ``I will vote, and
I am not afraid of anyone, whoever he is,'' Qader
Iraqi Kurds, who were by turns persecuted, displaced
and massacred during the rule of Saddam Hussein,
widely see the vote on Sunday as the end of an era
in which they were shut out of national politics. To
prevent Kurdish factions from splitting the vote and
losing out on seats in the new 275-member National
Assembly, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurds' two
predominant parties and historical rivals, joined
with other political groups in the region to form a
unified slate of candidates.
``We believe that for the whole of Iraq, all parts
of Kurdistan should be presented as one body,'' said
Salahadin Babaker, a board member of the Kurdistan
Nevertheless, the political atmosphere in Erbil was
palpably partisan, in large part, party leaders
said, because the various parties will be battling
one another in the regional elections. The bulk of
the Kurdish population identifies - on the basis of
geography or ancestry - with either the KDP or the
Both parties have increased their handouts in the
months leading up to the election. The KDP said it
gives free cooking gas to the unemployed and has
increased its payouts to widowers, martyrs and the
disabled from about $60 to $200.
Raqeeb Shekhan, who is in charge of payments for the
city's Tajil district, spent most of Thursday
acknowledging waves from passing motorists with a
nod of his head.
``We waited for this a long time,'' he said, his
head wrapped in a traditional headdress. ``We've
ached for this freedom. We want to be like the rest
of the world.''
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