Iraqis go to polls

BAGHDAD, Aug 20 (South News) - Iraqis went to the polls on Friday at a local level in the fourth election process held in the country since the 1991 Gulf War.

At the Aazamiah voting station in a Baghdad school built in the 1930s, dozens of voters had earlier crowded in to chose 13 representatives. Officials passed out ballots bearing the slogan "democracy is a source of power for the individual and society." The turnout was average at midday with the heat, which reached 48 degrees Celsius, discouraging some voters from going outside.

Ali Jabbar Saleh, who was in charge of the polling station, said he expected "a much larger crowd one hour before the stations close" at 8:00 p.m. "The election is being held despite Iraq's difficult circumstances, the embargo under which it has been placed and the almost daily attacks" by US and British aircraft, he said. "Yet it shows the state's interest in the democratic process despite these circumstances."

More than 10 million Iraqis are eligible to choose 4,869 councillors from 5,910 candidates in voting  for people's councils at 1,473 polling stations in Baghdad   and the country's 15 provinces, 82 cities and 132 towns.

The ``people's councils'' have powers over education, health, tourism, housing and economic activities in the provinces. In many districts, several members of the Ba'ath Party are running against each other against in a field containing many independents including a number of university professors.

Iraq's official Al-Jumhuriya newspaper called Friday for the new councils to be more active, saying that so far they haven't measured up to expectations. In a commentary earlier in the week, the paper described Iraq's centralised administration as "one of the problems inherited by the revolution," a legacy of the "years of stagnation and occupation" that preceded the Ba'ath's rise to power in 1968.

Since the start of campaigning on August 1, newspapers have been publishing lists of candidates' names and backgrounds, and in particular their contributions to the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and the Gulf War (1991).

In October 1995, Iraq held presidential elections in which President Saddam Hussein was given another seven-year term. In March 1996, parliamentary elections were held in which all 160 candidates of the Baath party won seats as well as 60 independents. Two months later Iraq held local elections.