Thursday, December 15, 2005

Election Day Haircuts and Posters

Today, when Iraqis went to vote for their first permanent government, not much was different in our compound. My Iraqi co-workers had the day off, the third of a five-day break. But the Kurdish guards who monitor the perimeter were on duty. The corner stores were also open. Outside the office and inside the compound, the only difference from yesterday was that the fellow who sells me orange juice had indelible ink on his forefinger. He voted for list 740, the Christian list, and he said that he would get me a poster.

Mid afternoon, I ventured outside the compound with the regional manager, a genial, rotund Jordanian. Our ostensible purpose was to get a haircut, but I wanted to see what it was like on election day. Despite the warnings of one of my coworkers, we went without security and strolled down the main street.

There was little traffic on the road, mostly busses. It appeared they were taking people to vote. Every few blocks the street would be roped off around voting centers. Some had groups of men around my age congregating around the perimeter. One voting center had a makeshift band with drums and shrill trumpet.

The campaign materials are much different in Kurdistan. In Baghdad, most of the posters feature the candidate's face and the number of the slate. Both compete for space on the poster. Up North, the posters have a cultural relevance to them. One depicts a married couple with the husband wearing the distinctive Kurdish garb. The list number is not prominent, perhaps because anyone who sees it already knows the number. Another poster has a picture of the famous tel in Arbil. I did not see Talabani or Barzani's face anywhere.

My favorite poster has what might be a Kurdish princess adorned with red, white, and green facepaint - the colors of the Kurdish flag. After the trim, we spent some time trying to safely remove posters, while making sure no one took our efforts the wrong way. It was nearly five o'clock, when the polls close, and some passerbys lended a hand.


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