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Pre-Election Campaigning in Northern Iraq Intensifies


Voters and political activists of the Kurdistan region of Iraq are preparing for Sunday's national elections.

Throughout this major city in Iraq's Kurdistan region, nearly every wall and shop window is plastered with National Assembly campaign posters. Loudspeakers on buildings blare out slogans and appeals for people to turn out and vote.

The vehicles of campaign motorcades constantly clog the streets. The excitement as the election draws near is like the celebration that might take place if the local football team won the national cup.

The eagerness to cast ballots dominates conversations on the street, in the cafes, and in homes. The people here in Erbil and in the entire Kurdistan region suffered under the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. They say they are hoping that chapter of Iraq's history will be replaced by a democratic future.

Politicians here are trying to ensure the strongest possible Kurdish representation in the National Assembly. There are two major Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani. But they have set aside their differences during this election and are fielding a unified candidate slate.

Officials in both parties say they do not want those casting ballots on Sunday to divide the Kurdish votes. They say such unity will be crucial when Iraq writes its new constitution later this year, if continued autonomy and other rights for the Kurdistan region are to be ensured.

Kurdistan also has an Arab minority and another group, the Turkmen. But candidates from the two groups are much less visible. On the streets of Erbil, there are only a few posters supporting one Turkmen candidate, though the offices of several Turkmen parties are present.

Unlike the city of Kirkuk, not far to the south, where some bombings and attacks against election offices have taken place, there is greater calm in Erbil. Still, with each passing day the number of security forces and checkpoints grows, an effort to make sure that the election on Sunday will be joyful and historic, not violent.