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Anti-Incumbent Sentiment Grows Ahead Of Iraq Vote

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Iraq today, violence broke out as early voting began in the country's parliamentary elections. Soldiers, police and people with special needs went to the polls in advance of Sunday's nationwide vote. Three bomb attacks killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more. Two of the attacks were on polling stations. Recent security breaches have put a dent in what looked like a clear lead in the polls for incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

And as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Baghdad, there's growing impatience with incumbents throughout Iraq's young democracy.

QUIL LAWRENCE: This campaign had more billboards and TV ads than outdoor rallies, though supporters of the current interior minister did turn out for an open-air rally on the last day of campaigning.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)

LAWRENCE: At a long park along the Tigris River protected by army checkpoints at each end, about a thousand people turned up to hear speech by the brother of Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bolani who was also running for parliament. But even supporters of a sitting minister repeated the old slogan: throw the bums out. So said Malad Zamir(ph) and his friend Bilal(ph).

Mr. MALAD ZAMIR: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: We don't want Bolani to ally with anyone else. They are the same old politicians who have done nothing since the collapse of the old regime, says Zamir.

BILAL: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: We want new faces, his friend adds. Incumbents certainly aren't without advantages. For example, these men and many in the crowd are employees of the minister they say they're voting for. With the entire cabinet running for election, no one has been shy about using the trappings of office to campaign. A soldier died trying to stop a suicide bomber today and Prime Minister Maliki rushed to announce that he was posthumously promoting the officer. This is on a day when police and army were voting. Gifts and new projects have been announced but it doesn't necessarily seem to be working. Mazin(ph) is a real estate agent living right next to a new highway project. He would only give his first name.

MAZIN (Real Estate Agent, Iraq): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: They should be changed from the roots up, he says.

MAZIN: I hope new faces - new.

LAWRENCE: And then with Iraq's typical macabre humor he suggests a way to take care of the entire parliament full of incumbents.

MAZIN: Bomb. Bomb (unintelligible).

LAWRENCE: It isn't a laughing matter though. Bombs that hit polling stations today come on the heels of attacks in Baghdad and beyond that have killed hundreds of people. Still, security is better than two years ago and the biggest incumbent of them all - Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki - is not afraid of the budding antiestablishment crowd. The senior aide, Hajim al-Hassani(ph).

Mr. HAJIM AL-HASSANI (Senior Aide, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki): We will find some people who want the whole political process to be demolished and to start from zero. But I think a lot of people right now feel that the continuity is better from them.

LAWRENCE: In last year's provincial elections, incumbents were thrown out of office in a majority of provinces. Polling data is hard to pin down in Iraq. Some have suggested that over half of Iraqis want, quote, "someone other than Prime Minister Maliki in office next time." But other polls put Maliki ahead among likely voters and the field is fractured. So he could be a winner with as little as 25 percent of the votes.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Lining up to check their names off the voter rolls at a polling station in Baghdad today, a sample of police and soldiers provided a completely unscientific poll.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: But not one of them said he was voting for the incumbent.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.

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