Mosul expected to be closely divided after ballots are counted

12/16/2005 5:48:01 AM

MOSUL, Iraq - Manal Yahia cast her ballot Thursday for a candidate whose name she feared to speak.

In this northern city that has been jaggedly divided along religious and ethnic lines, Yahia, a Sunni, didn't believe it was wise to make it widely known that she was backing a secular Shiite.

"You know, with some of these people, I don't know how they would respond if I were to tell them I am voting for him," said Yahia, who quietly confirmed she was voting for former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "It has been difficult to be optimistic for Iraq, but today I am hoping that we are celebrating our country's wedding."

When the votes are counted in the coming days, Nineva province, which includes Mosul, is expected to be the most closely divided governorate in Iraq.

The atmosphere here Thursday was exhilarating for Shiite and Kurdish partisans who believed the election would cement their candidates' hold on power in Iraq after more than 30 years of being ruled by the nation's minority Sunni Arabs.

For Sunnis, who largely sat out the Jan. 30 election that put in place an interim government to write a constitution, there was an overwhelming sense of resignation that despite their participation, the Shiite-Kurdish bloc would retain power.

Hussein Qadr Jaffar, 61, a Shiite farmer, and his wife arrived at their polling center before it opened and cast their vote for the Shiite slate led by Abdul-Aziz Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

"The Jaafari government is trying to do what's best," he said. "We just need to give it time."

Nineva province is 40 percent Sunni Arab, 35 percent Kurdish, 15 percent Shiite. The remaining 10 percent is Christian and Assyrian. It is also the second most populated province, after Baghdad, and 19 parliamentary seats were up for grabs.

In the October national referendum that led to passage of the Iraqi constitution, 55 percent of the province's residents voted against the document, making Nineva the most closely divided province in the country.

Sunni leaders alleged fraud in Nineva then, saying that many polling sites in predominantly Sunni areas didn't open and that Sunni voters were prevented from voting in certain parts of the province.

On Thursday, both Sunni Arabs and Kurds in Mosul said they were prevented from going to polls.

The U.S. military, which was providing security Thursday, received reports that large numbers of voters were being turned away after being told that they didn't have the proper registration. At one polling site in a predominantly Kurdish neighborhood, it appeared only Arab voters were being turned away. Kurdish voters made similar protests of being blocked from the polls in some Arab neighborhoods.

"If the Americans and Shiites want a certain candidate, they'll be sure to get that candidate," said Hamid Kareem, a Sunni voter.

Lt. Col. Charles Webster, commander of the U.S. 172nd Stryker Brigade overseeing much of eastern Mosul, acknowledged some problems but said he did not believe a significant number of voters were affected.

Though there were several booms in the early morning hours from mortar attacks and roadside bombs targeting polling sites and Iraqi security forces, the U.S. military reported few significant incidents in the city. One man was killed by a mortar that was intended for a polling station near the hospital the man worked at.

Uniformed, gun-carrying members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's militia, or pesh merga, stood outside one polling site in the Saddam neighborhood. They were reportedly telling voters that they should cast their ballots for the Kurdish list.

Capt. Allen Harris, a company commander for an element of the 172nd Stryker Brigade, paid a visit and warned the pesh merga that they weren't allowed on the street with their weapons or in their vehicles Thursday. Harris also reminded them they were prohibited from any sort of campaigning at the polls.

"If you are out in the street in your vehicles or with your weapons or vehicles, you risk the possibility of us shooting at you," Harris warned the militia commander. "Is that understood?"

The message seemed to be heard loud and clear, and the pesh merga promised to stay in their compound for the rest of the day.