Iraq has “Turned the Corner” – MEP Claims

The Scotsman, UK
Jan 30 2004

Iraq has “Turned the Corner” – MEP Claims

By Caroline Gammell, PA Deputy Chief Reporter

The turnout at today’s Iraqi election was enormous and proof that the
troubled country has now `turned the corner’, a British MEP currently
in Iraq said today.

Baroness Emma Nicholson, who has visited Iraq many times over the
years, said she was delighted to see Sunni minorities casting their
vote alongside the Shiites and Christians.

An Iraqi election official claimed that 72% of eligible voters had
turned out so far nationwide.

The official, Adel al-Lami of the Independent Electoral Commission,
offered no overall figures of the actual numbers, but said the
percentage of registered voters who had gone to the polls in some
Baghdad neighbourhoods was as high as 95%.

Earlier, the top US adviser to commission, Carlos Valenzuela, offered
a much more cautious assessment, saying turnout appeared to be high
in many areas, but that it was too early to know for sure.

Baroness Nicholson, a Liberal Democrat MEP, described how she saw
polling stations just outside Basra adorned in brightly coloured
banners with people laughing and celebrating the first election in

`There was a mass of colour all along the streets and lanes – the
Iraqi people are saying that this is the first day of freedom for
Iraq,’ she said.

`The atmosphere was one of excitement. I spoke to a bunch of young
women who said they were very, very serious about this election.

`There were also rural women, country women and they were all
determined to vote.’

The baroness said although the older women were more reluctant to
talk, the young women and all the men were keen to speak about their
hopes for the future.

`They have been waiting for this for nearly 40 years,’ she said.
`This is a very momentous day and I was not expecting to say that.’

The baroness is no stranger to Iraq having long campaigned on behalf
of the Marsh Arabs in the southern part of the country and made
several undercover trips into their territory during the Saddam

Today she praised the UN and Iraqi Electoral Commission for
organising such a seemingly smooth election.

She said coalition forces were keeping a low profile: `They are only
visible in small quantities as back-up far away.

`They are completely out of sight of the polling stations. The people
who are visible are the Iraqi police who are very well mannered, calm
and attentive.’

She said the Iraqi army was also in evidence, manning the numerous
check points.

Baroness Nicholson told how she saw queues of people lining up
outside the polling station in both the Sunni and Shiite areas before
they even opened.

She also saw a group of Christian women who had fled from Armenia
during the First World War and settled in Iraq.

`They apologised for being late – as if 7am is late – and said they
had held a Christian service at home because they could not get to
the church due to the curfew and had come on to vote.’

At one polling station the MEP visited, 2,000 potential voters had
registered and by 12pm 1,300 had already entered the polling booth.

Organisers expected around 1,800 – or 80% – of people listed at that
one station to have voted by the close of the poll at 5pm.

The baroness – who has come to Iraq with one other MEP – said the
vast majority of people had not been scared to come and vote.

`There have been a few incidents but they are not disrupting the
elections – I don’t think people would allow that,’ she said.

`The insurgents are labelled as a small number of extremists who want
to disrupt the democratic process. Most people do not wish them to

Baroness Nicholson is due to leave Iraq tomorrow and will report her
findings to the European parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday.

She said: `My overriding message will be that Iraq has turned the corner.’