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Iraq's Upcoming Election

Aired January 27, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Home movies in a harrowing time. Three Iraqi election candidates take video cameras along for the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A number of passers-by were killed and there were bits of their bodies all over our front and backyards.


MANN: Hello and welcome.

One of the difficulties we have reporting on Iraq is that our correspondents and crews can't go to many of the places they want to see. It is just too dangerous.

So we take advantage today of a request made to three candidates in the upcoming election, for them to take video cameras and keep a diary of part of their campaign. As it so happens, all three are women and it was very dangerous for them as well. So dangerous that we'll see their husbands and children, but we've hidden their faces for their protection.

Journalist Sue Turton put the tapes together.

On our program today, Iraq's election from the inside.


SALAMA AL-KHAFAJI, IRAQI CANDIDATE: Stopping violence is our aim. Stopping violence cost me the life of one of the members of my family and cost me one of my colleagues and it might cost me my life, but I will not stop.

SUE TURTON, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Salama Al-Khafaji is a dentist in Baghdad. She is a member of the Iraqi National Council and is running for election to the United National Coalition. She's a Shia.

MAYSOON AL-DAMLUJI, IRAQI CANDIDATE: It's not my job to be pessimistic. I don't want to be pessimistic, but there is a chance that these extremists will drag us into a civil war.

TURTON: Maysoon Al-Damluji is an architect. She trained in the United Kingdom, returning to Iraq in 2003, and is currently the deputy minister for culture. She is standing for the Iraq Independent Democrats. She is a Sunni.

RAJAA AL-KHUZAI: You never known when a car bomb will explode or any assassinations will happen.

TURTON: Dr. Rajaa Al-Khuzai is a an obstetrician. She is on the present Iraqi Governing Council and is standing for election on Dr. Ayad Allawi's Iraqi list. She's a Shia.

AL-KHAFAJI: Today I'm going to travel to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and to Al Kut, to have my campaign there.

TURTON: In Western democracies, campaigning is about getting the message out. In Iraq, it's about staying alive until polling day.

Dr. Salama is preparing to leave Baghdad for southern Iraq. Her bodyguard stops the car. He's seen terrorists at fake police checkpoints on the road to Al Kut. The trip is cancelled.

She knows the dangers all too well. Salama was instrumental last year in diffusing the standoff in Najaf between the coalition forces and supporters of Muqtada Al-Sadr.

On the road from Najaf back to Baghdad her convoy was ambushed.

AL-KHAFAJI: And in that attack, my bodyguard and my son had been killed.

TURTON: Her son was 17. His death led her to mobilize a women's demonstration against the violence. Much of her support is now in the Najaf region.

Eight months on, the attacks have not abated. As Salama was filming, she learned another of her colleagues had been assassinated. Three hours after that, terrorists disguised as police came for her.

AL-KHAFAJI: A policeman on a motorcycle, he crashed our car and then he started to shoot gun over us. Then he came to the front of the car, trying to stop us. This time our guards came.

AL-DAMLUJI: This is the street where we live. We have concrete blocks on both sides.

TURTON: The second candidate, Maysoon, lives in the Ministry of Culture, where a bomb exploded just yards from their building.

AL-DAMLUJI: It was less than 100 yards away from where we were at the time. A number of passers-by were killed and there were bits of their bodies, all over our front and backyards, balconies and in the streets. Limbs were everywhere. It was horrific. Even the palm trees were attacked.

TURTON: Maysoon's bodyguards preparing for a day on the campaign trail. Another of her friends also standing in the election was killed a couple of days ago. One in three candidates in this election are women. Mothers, wives, widows, all with nerves of steel.

AL-KHUZAI: It's cloudy today. That's why I am looking through glasses. And at least, you know, this is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so that terrorists will not recognize me, my face.

TURTON: Dr. Rajaa, our third candidate, is recognized all over the country as one of Allawi's close associates. Her face is on their campaign poster.


TURTON: Rajaa laid out a new strategy for women's health. It's a main election platform, but it's not easy relaying this to the voters. This election isn't about knocking on door or campaigning on the streets. It's more posters, leaflets and word of mouth.

And today Dr. Rajaa's party has a distinct advantage, an interview done with Ayad Allawi, the acting prime minister and their party leader, as repeated throughout that day. In fact, with Maysoon she's taking part in a live phone-in debate and describing her humanitarian work, including the help she's given orphans who fled from Falluja.

Candidates have discovered the importance of TV airport. It is the first attempt at a free election for over 70 years. They're learning on the job.

AL-DAMLUJI: With all the courses that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Americans and the United Nations, all the different institutions that deal with democracy, two things they did not teach us. The first is how to graphically design our campaign. And the second is how to inspire people to work for you, especially in these circumstances. Extremely difficult circumstances. People have been shot dead putting up posters.

TURTON: Meanwhile, Salama is relying on a network of women to distribute leaflets and mobilize voters, telling of her main pledge, to cut unemployment. Iraqi women are some of the most politicized in the world.

The following day the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers is on the news. She talks it over with her strategy advisor.

AL-KHAFAJI: We ask the Iraqi people to vote for the new Iraq. For having human rights, for having democracy. And now we have this problem.

TURTON: On the highway into Baghdad, the American presence is an annoyance for Dr. Rajaa. Her car is forced to slow down. Iraqis are not allowed to pass U.S. military vehicles.

An evening meeting often takes Maysoon into the fortified green zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have any other ID?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Her ID was taken away from her.

TURTON: Later she tries to leave, but getting her and her assistant out takes some negotiation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't want to go to the green zone. Excuse me. We're going out to the red zone, sir.

AL-DAMLUJI: They are rude, they are arrogant. They treat you like you're a terrorist, every Iraqi is a terrorist. And it's not a present feeling, thing, to have at all. One day I even said to an officer that you known -- that he had managed to turn an ally into an enemy before.

So there is a lot of talk about Iraq being divided between two sides: Sunni and Shia -- and that the two don't mix. Please quit your talk about that, too.

Well, I'm not sure that they don't mix. I think they do mist and hae mixed for the last God knows how ma h centuries, and I think the will continue to live.

AL-KHAFAJI: I'll give you one very important example just in front of you, I am a Shia and my husband is a Sunni. I have seven children, and they don't know whether they are Shia or Sunni. They are just Muslims, and that's it. And Iraq is one nation and will be one nation forever.

TURTON: These women have lost loved ones, they face their daily fears and campaign under siege. Determined to see a free and fair election in Iraq this Sunday.


MANN: We take a break now. When we come back, what kind of Iraq do its women want. Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we found out in that survey is that a lot of Iraqi women are actually united in what they are looking for from this election. They want to protect their legal rights. 80 percent of the women we surveyed say they want to make sure that they have representation in national and local council. 94 percent of the women we surveyed, they sad that they want to protect their legal rights, they wanted to vote in the final constitution. And 80 percent of them are optimistic about the future.



MANN: It's often said that women in Saddam Hussein's Iraq enjoyed more personal freedom than most of their counterparts in the Middle East. Women held senior positions in the ruling Ba'ath Party and could be found alongside men in all walks of life. But personal freedom for anyone in Iraq was a very relative thing.

Welcome back.

According to Iraq's new election laws, women have to make up 30 percent of any party's candidate list. 25 percent of the seats in the national assembly are also reserved for women. But with all the violence, how many of them will actually take the opportunity to vote. And what kind of government can they really expect.

Joining us now to talk more about this is Zainab al-Suwaji of the American Islamic Congress, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting interfaith understanding. We should say also that she took part in the unsuccessful uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Thank you so much for being with us.

Women are going to vote. They are going to be elected. They are guaranteed a minimum number of seats in the new assembly, in fact more than they enjoy in virtually any democracy in the world. How closely is this being watched by women not only from Iraq, but all over the Arab and Muslim worlds?

ZAINAB AL-SUWAJI, AMERICAN ISLAMIC CONGRESS: I think this is a great success and a great opportunity for Iraqi women, not only for Iraqi women but Arab women in the whole region.

I mean, to have 25 percent in the parliament seats reserved for Iraqi women, this is a great success and great victory. And Iraqi women work so hard to achieve this.

In the past year and a half or almost two years, they've been working so hard towards this, and now they are campaigning all around the country. You see them in the south, in the Kurdistan area and in Baghdad and around it, looking forward to the election, feeling it is a part of their duty towards their country to participate in this election.

MANN: What do they most want from the government that is going to be formed? And what do they most want out of the constitution that the new assembly is going to write?

AL-SUWAJI: The Muslim women, they want their rights to be protected and also to participate in every aspect of life in Iraq, to be equal. To have equal rights with men.

MANN: Well, equality means different things to different people. What are the chances that conservatives are going to try to write Sharia into either the legal system, the family law of the country or the constitution for that matter?

AL-SUWAJI: Well, this depends on the people, how they want to draw their constitution in the country.

I think Iraqi women in the past refused to have Sharia law imposed in the constitution and they wanted to be separated between the law of the country -- between the constitution of the country and the civil law in the country as well.

So last March, March of 2004, a majority of Iraqi women went into the street against this Sharia law and they did not pass after all.

So I think Iraqi women do have a strong position and strong opinion and they know what they want. And they are ready for this upcoming election.

MANN: Now you're making reference to an effort by the Interim Governing Council to actually adopt Sharia law in the family law of Iraq and, as you say, it failed. But it was a signal, I think, of what's ahead. Conservative groups are expected to dominate. Conservative Shiite groups are expected to dominate the new national assembly. Is this inevitably going to be some kind of showdown, a very important one, for Iraq's future?

AL-SUWAJI: It is going to be important and I don't think that -- even when you are talking about conservatives, there are different kind of conservative people that we're talking about.

And Iraq has been well-known, even though they are religious, not to be extreme. And even with the religious list that you see right now in Iraq, you see a lot of women participating in the election and they do want their right to be protected and they want to be part of the political process in the upcoming period.

MANN: There is a very sad distinction for Iraqi women. 60 percent of the country is female. That's lopsided by gender. And the natural assumption is that so many Iraqi men have been killed in war. There are a lot of widows, an unusually large amount of widows. How does that affect what the government has to take care of?

AL-SUWAJI: Well, the government certainly has a big task to do towards these families and these women, especially, but I think these women are very strong. Especially in the past 35 years, when women worked as both parents, as the mother and the father, meanwhile the male of the family is not present.

So these women are strong. We cannot underestimate their effort and all the work that they have been doing. But I think right now the task is bigger. I think they are getting into a new era in Iraq and the new government has to protect their rights in the upcoming period.

MANN: Zainab al-Suwaji, of the American Islamic Congress, thank you so much for this.

We take another break. When we come back, the former mayor of Mosul campaigns from afar. And then, further south, to Basra.


MANN: Mosul is a predominantly Sunni city in the north of Iraq, the third largest community in the country. Insurgents there are trying to frighten voters into staying home. By one estimate, there is an average of more than 100 attacks in the region each week, and at least one of the city's best known figures is campaigning for election from the safety of another city entirely.

Welcome back.

Mishan al-Jabouri once declared himself the mayor of Mosul. Now he lives in Baghdad. But even there, he is taking extraordinary steps to stay alive.

Julian Manyon has this story.


JULIAN MANYON, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Leaving his luxury Baghdad home, one of the party leaders in the Iraqi elections. If Mishan al-Jabouri looks apprehensive, it's because he knows the dangers that lurk in Baghdad's streets. To get to his campaign headquarters a mile away, Jabouri 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.

(on camera): It's a strange way to try to run an election campaign, but this is the way Mishan al-Jabouri 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.

(voice-over): Jabouri's party list is called Reconciliation and Liberation. But Islamic militants have warned him not to stand in the elections 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, Jabouri is installing more concrete blocks in front of the house against the threat of suicide car bombs.

(on camera): How are you trying to protect yourself here? I mean, you've got -- how many armed guards have you got and what precautions do you take?

MISHAN AL-JABOURI, IRAQI CANDIDATE: I have in my house people working for 24 hours, total about 54 persons.

MANYON: 54 armed guards?


MANYON: Looking out for you?

AL-JABOURI: Yes. Here in the house. I have the same number in my office.

MANYON (voice-over): From inside his Baghdad fortress, Jabouri 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 Jabouri believes that their efforts have been counterproductive and he thinks it is time for the Americans to start leaving Iraq.

AL-JABOURI: We need help through the United Nations. We need the army that comes under the U.N. flag, not under the American.

MANYON: As he rattles around the Iraqi capital in his armored Land Rover, Mishan al-Jabouri 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.

Julian Manyon, ITV News, Baghdad.


MANN: It just so happens that southern Iraq has been spared a lot of the violence that we've seen across Iraq in the run-up to the election, so maybe it's no surprise campaigning there is in full swing.

Lindsey Hilsum reports from Basra.


LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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 through the streets. Children go barefoot. Crime is rife.

But I found extraordinary optimism here about the elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The security situation is bad because there is theft, looting, hijacking and suicide bombing. God willing, after the elections, all of this will improve.

HILSUM: We were in Hyalea (ph) with a British patrol. They're used to being jostled. The children sometimes throw stones. 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 election.

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 the most in the Iran-Iraq War, and many think the Ayatollah is too close to Tehran.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He's done a lot. He's provided employment. We don't have petrol yet, but it's coming.

HILSUM: Neighborhood schools will serve as polling centers.

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

(voice-over): Police are on guard. There aren't enough rifles to go around so some have brought their personal weapons from home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The weapon systems -- have they been issued these weapon systems or are they there own weapon systems?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He brought this rifle from his home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is his own weapon system and not that that was issued by the police department?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Not from the police station.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): 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.

HILSUM: A megaphone message. "Vote for United Iraq." "Vote 169." That's the Sistani list.

People here are divided in their political loyalties, but nearly all seem to believe that somehow the election can solve Basra's problems of violence and poverty.


MANN: And that's INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The election is Sunday and we'll have extensive coverage all through the day and beyond.

For now, the news continues.



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