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Sunni Turnout

The triumphalism over the Iraq vote seems premature. There are no reliable numbers, either hard or soft, on Sunni turnout. Anecdotal evidence is not reassuring.

The Associated Press reports that "preliminary results from Iraq's historic election could come as early as Monday, Iraqi officials said Sunday. But final results and an accurate estimate of turnout could take up to 10 days." The AP also reports that a "U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sunni participation was considerably lower than other groups, especially in areas that have seen a great deal of violence, raising fears that the group that drives the insurgency could grow ever more alienated. Exact figures were not available, however." CBS News expands on the AP's anonymous diplomat: "A U.S. diplomat, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said 'good anecdotal information' indicated that 'Sunni participation was considerably lower than participation by the other groups, especially in areas which have seen a great deal of violence.'"

On the other hand, the BBC reports that "the UN's senior election official [Carlos Valenzuela] said turnout in Sunni areas - hotbed of the insurgency - was higher than expected," though "voting among Sunnis...was nonetheless low." Al Jazeerah had more from Valenzuela: "If the results are confirmed -- and the only reason to be cautious is the lack of a complete picture -- then it is very good news...The challenge is for the results to be accepted by the Sunni (Arab) minority."

The only figures out are piecemeal preliminary results. Reuters reports on Samarra: "According to preliminary figures provided by a joint U.S. and Iraqi taskforce who safeguarded Sunday's vote, fewer than 1,400 people cast ballots in the city of 200,000. The figure includes votes from soldiers and police, most of whom were recruited from the Shi'ite south." The Los Angeles Times reports on Al Anbar: "Unofficial figures from the province showed that only about 17,000 of as many as 250,000 eligible voters in Al Anbar participated in the first national election since a U.S.-led coalition deposed Saddam Hussein. The mostly Sunni province is home to the restive cities of Ramadi and Fallouja....Unofficial figures showed that 1,700 people voted in Ramadi, a city of nearly 400,000 residents; 8,000 in Fallouja, half the size of Ramadi; and about 5,000 in neighboring Nassar Wa Alsalaam, a mostly agricultural community. The remaining votes came from smaller towns in the vast province, which stretches from west of Baghdad to the border with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia."

The English language version of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has not been updated since the election. The US embassy website contains no information other than George W. Bush's speeches and spin.

Update, 8:18 PM EST: More anecdotal evidence, this from the Washington Post:

In Sunni-populated regions of central and northern Iraq, where the insurgency has been most fierce, Sunday's turnout was far lower than elsewhere, a sign of the guerrillas' strength in those areas and their ability to intimidate.

Despite rumors that food rations would be taken away if residents failed to vote, few defied threats by insurgents to, in the words of one leaflet, "wash the streets" with the blood of voters.

In Ramadi, a western city of roughly 200,000 people along the Euphrates River, residents said only six people voted at one polling station: the provincial governor, three of his deputies, the representative of the Communist Party and the police chief. In Dhuluyah, a town north of Baghdad along the Tigris, the eight polling stations never opened, residents said, and in other towns in the region, voters usually numbered in the dozens as others ignored appeals broadcast by patrolling U.S. soldiers to vote.

But both the violence and the Sunni turnout proved to be the wild cards. After a slow start, growing numbers voted in heavily Sunni districts of the capital, including Khadra, Tunis and parts of Adhamiyah, residents said. Crowds in Baqubah, a mixed Sunni-Shiite town northeast of Baghdad, gathered with their children before polls opened and waited for tardy election workers as mortar shells detonated in the distance.

In the northern city of Mosul, scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months, turnout grew among both Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds as intense attacks failed to materialize. In the two weeks before the elections, the United States had increased its troop strength in Mosul by 50 percent, from 8,000 to 12,000, and brought in an additional 4,500 Iraqi security forces.
The Iraqi Election Information Network, a National Democratic Institute project, released a preliminary statement [.doc], but no figures. The Iraqi Election Information Network web page is loaded with typographical errors, and to date has received just 1686 hits.

Update, 2/1/05, 2:41 AM EST: The New York Times has more turnout stories, though nothing dispositive:
Although there were at least nine separate suicide bombing incidents in Baghdad, and insurgent attacks elsewhere across the country that killed at least 50 people, the rebel plans to torpedo the vote by frightening people into staying home appeared to have failed, even in areas where the rebels have been strongest, in the Sunni-dominated region of Babil Province, south of Baghdad, across Anbar Province to the west, and in Saladin, Diyala and Nineveh provinces to the east and north.

But as more details emerged of the pattern of voting, it remained uncertain how widespread Sunni voting in those areas had been. Both Mr. Valenzuela and Mr. Ayar, the election commission chief, spoke of higher-than-expected turnouts in Babil, Anbar, Diyala and Nineveh, and described lines at polling stations in cities that have seen major insurgent violence, including Falluja, Baquba and Mosul.

But other reports said that polling centers in Samarra, another trouble center north of Baghdad, as well as in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, had been largely deserted, and that the turnout in Baquba, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population, had been about 30 percent. Still, Mr. Ayar said, "there were no cities with no votes."

But he cautioned against the notion that the Sunni turnout in the troubled areas had been that high. "Everyone says it was better than what we expected," he said. "However, the expectations were very low. So it really doesn't mean very much, does it?"


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