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Preparation for National Elections in Iraq

January 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


LINDSEY HILSUM: This is the poorest part of Basra. Saddam Hussein forced these people out of the marshes to the north and condemned them to poverty in the city. After rain, the sewage rises to the streets. Children go barefoot, crime is rife. But I found extraordinary optimism here about the elections.

MAN ON STREET (Translated): The security situation is bad because there is theft, looting, hijacking and suicide bombing. God willing, after the elections, all this will improve.

LINDSEY HILSUM: We were in Haigenieh with a British patrol. They’d used to being jostled. The children sometimes throw stone, but there is no real hostility. This is a deeply Shia area, but that doesn’t mean that everyone thinks the same way about the elections.

When I talked to a group of young men, everyone wanted to give his opinion. Some favored what they saw as the true Shia list, symbolized by the candle, blessed by Ayatollah Al Sistani. But Basra people suffered more than most in the Iran-Iraq War and many think the ayatollah is too close to Tehran.

The interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has convinced others that he’ll bring prosperity. He’s the man everyone’s seen on television.

MAN ON STREET (Translated): He’s done a lot. He’s provided employment. We don’t have petrol yet, but it’s coming.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Neighborhood schools will serve as polling centers.

The British patrol has come down here to check that everything is ready at the election center. The people I’ve spoken to here say that none of the candidates have been down to this, the poorest area of Basra, but they’ve got all the information they need from television, and they’re determined to turn out and vote.

Police are on guard. There aren’t enough rifles to go around, so some have brought their personal weapons from home.

SPOKESMAN: The weapons, have they been issued these weapon systems or their own…

MAN: He got this rifle from his own.

SPOKESMAN: This is his own weapon system? It’s not issued by the police station?

MAN: No, no, not from the police station.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But the police officer in charge of the district seems confident.

OFFICER (Translated): We’ve already started our security procedures. At this center we’ve assigned seven policemen with their arms and radio equipment. We’re carrying out night patrols and searches in the area.

JIM LEHRER: Americans troops are providing pre-election security in Mosul in the North. Neil Connery of ITN traveled with a patrol today.

NEIL CONNERY: Within minutes of setting off on this operation, our convoy is forced to stop; an improvised bomb made up of three artillery shells is discovered under a burned-out lorry. After one of the American tanks opens fire, its heavy machine gun is then used to destroy what remains of the unexploded bomb.

Half a mile up the road, another suspect vehicle, this time the bodies of three men are found inside. They’ve been blind folded and shot. The troops fear the car may be booby-trapped; they leave the bodies where they are. In the center of Mosul, the people look on bemused by the scale of the American presence.

LT. COL. THOMAS HESLIN: This awesome display you’re seeing now is only about one-third of my combat power. I have so much more in reserve, if I need more help, it’s a phone call away.

NEIL CONNERY: So as this operation gets under way, the big unknown is how many Iraqis will bother to turn out and vote. For their part, U.S. forces say they’ll do everything they can in the days to come to make the people of Mosul feel safe.

Their work goes on around the clock. It’s 4:00 A.M. and a series of raids on suspected insurgents gets under way. We followed this unit on one operation as they search for weapons and evidence.

CAPT. DAVID SILVER: What we have here are a number of AK-47s, MP-5 magazines and pistol magazines as well as numerous AK-47 rounds.

NEIL CONNERY: After blasting their way into the garden, a pile of freshly buried Baath Party books and pro-Saddam literature are unearthed. Five suspects are detained for questioning.

SPOKESMAN: …wrapping up operations now.

NEIL CONNERY: But with only two days to go until the election, there is still much to do.

JIM LEHRER: Now one candidate’s perspective on security. ITN’s Julian Manyon reports from Baghdad.

JULIAN MANYON: Leaving his luxury Baghdad home, one of the party leaders in the Iraqi elections. If Mishaan Jubouri looks apprehensive, it’s because he knows the dangers that lurk in Baghdad’s streets; to get to his campaign headquarters a mile away, Jubouri rides in his heavily armored land rover in a convoy packed with armed men.When they arrive, his bodyguards fan out to protect the building.

It’s a strange way to try to run an election campaign, but this is the way Mishaan Jubouri is forced to do it, for there is no doubt that here in Baghdad and in his home city of Mosul, his life is in real danger. There is no shortage of people who quite simply would like to kill him.

Jubouri’s party list is called Reconciliation and Liberation, but Islamic militants have warned him not to stand in the election and three of his campaign workers have been killed. He doesn’t publish the names of the other candidates on his list for fear they will be murdered. Back at his home, Jubouri is installing more concrete blocks in front of the house against the threat of suicide car bombs.

JULIAN MANYON: How are you trying to protect yourself here? I mean ou’ve got… how man armed guards have you got and what precautions do you take?

MISHAAN JUBOURI: I have about 54 people working for me.

JULIAN MANYON: Fifty-four armed guards looking after you?

MISHAAN JUBOURI: Yes, here at the house. I have the same number in my office.

JULIAN MANYON: From inside his Baghdad fortress, Jubouri tries to encourage supporters in the northern city of Mosul. He used to be the mayor of Mosul but can’t campaign there because of the ongoing violence.

American troops have been trying to encourage the people of Mosul to go to the polls. But Jubouri believes that their efforts have been counter-productive. And he thinks it’s time for the Americans to start leaving Iraq.

MISHAAN JUBOURI: We need help through – you need the armies to come under the U.N. flag — not the Americans.

JULIAN MANYON: As he rattles around the Iraqi capital in his armored land rover, Mishaan Jubouri doesn’t yet know if he’ll win a seat in the new assembly. But no one can doubt that he’s had the courage to try.