Iraqis in the northern Kurdistan Region are celebrating their first opportunity in nearly half a century to have a political voice in their national government. VOA's Jeffrey Young reports from the city of Irbil that people there now look forward to using their new power.
From the moment the polls opened at 7:00 a.m. Sunday, people in Erbil turned out in droves to choose members of the new National Assembly in Baghdad, something denied them for decades. In this heavily Kurdish city, people here know that building a new country will take time and hard work.
The Siani family lives in a modest Irbil neighborhood. Their block and cement house has no central heating, like many here, but family members stay warm with small kerosene stoves. Political news has been a lot of what they've seen and talked about.
Jabar Othman Siani is the patriarch of the family. This election came late in his life, but to him it's a new start, especially for his people. "The Americans and the European countries helped us stand on our feet again. And they let all the nations know there is a people called the Kurds. It's like I've been born again," said Jabar Othman Siani.
The Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq is officially four provinces. Steep mountains dominate the north near Turkey and to the east, approaching Iran. The rest is rolling lowlands with farms and sheepherding. But there are also vibrant cities such as Irbil.
The people of the Kurdistan Region have learned through the centuries to be tough and self-reliant, including its women. This election is especially important for them, because women were intended to be 30 percent of the National Assembly candidates.
Nehla Siani is proud of that. "We are very happy to participate in this election process. We are happy to have our voices heard like in other countries and to have women as representatives in parliament and the various ministries because women are the heart of the community."
That sense of heart permeates society here. People say one's character and strength mean more than possessions. They know that it will take years for life overall to improve. For now, getting even commonplace things can be an uphill challenge. Fuel is especially hard to find and it's presently rationed, with people waiting in lines stretching for kilometers just to get a small amount for their cars. This, in a country with some of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Nehla Siani's husband, Soran, says a better Iraq will come when some people here can have a change of heart. He says the religious and ethnic hatreds of the past must be put aside. Soran says he's willing to be the first to put his hand out in friendship. "Right now they hate us but we love them. Because this (election) is the first in a long way together."
Iraq is one country made up of many people, and now they all share a common future. At least in the Kurdistan Region, this election has shown that this future can begin pacefully.