VOA’s Jeffrey Young and Craig Fitzpatrick have been traveling in the Kurdish region. Jeff Young narrates.
What the world sees of Iraq is largely violence. But in the north, in the area called the Kurdistan Region, life is relatively normal, ‘though authorities maintain tight security. People in northern Iraq have been working hard to build prosperity and a future for themselves. Now, they have the historic opportunity to share in the creation of a new democratic national government. In the city of Irbil many people are excited about the January 30 elections.
Rawand Desai is one of them. He left Iraq in 1978 in the face of Saddam’s relentless campaign against the Kurdish people, but has recently returned to create new businesses. He says Saddam’s removal in the 2003 war was a victory for every Iraqi. “We’ve had Saddam Hussein as a dictator right in Iraq for over 30 years. So (the) end of Saddam Hussein was a positive thing for all Iraqi people from north to south.”
The streets of Irbil are full of day-to-day life. Shops offer just about everything one would find anywhere, from fashionable clothes to sizzling kebabs, a local favorite. And people are determined to keep their shops open despite problems such as frequent blackouts. There is new construction all over the city, reflecting a growing economy.
On shop walls that line the streets countless election posters urge people to take part in the vote. The candidates reflect the Kurdistan Region’s wide variety of political views. Majeed Shaban is an engineer. He sees casting his ballot as taking part in a historic moment. He says, “The election is very important for us. This is the first time our Kurdish people are going to elections here, and all of us will participate in this election because it’s very important for our future. (This is) for the Kurdish people and for our bright future in Iraq.”
Another Iraqi eager to vote is Abdel Hamid Fatah, who spent his career as a research scientist. When he retired, he set up a small shop to earn extra money. He says this election proves the end of Saddam has brought freedom to his people and every Iraqi. “I’m very happiness (happy) now. (This election is) my pleasure on all my family and all Kurdish people. They are happy for this election and for this freedom, ” he said.
Especially, freedom for their children. Like parents anywhere, people in Irbil say it’s important to give their children opportunities they themselves never had. That, and finally closing one of Iraq’s most repressive chapters in history, are some of the many reasons why voter turnout in the Kurdistan Region is expected to be heavy.