- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

BAGHDAD The victory rallies are set and the tributes are ready.
In an Iraqi yes-or-no vote today on re-electing Saddam Hussein, the only cliffhanger is whether the two-decade Iraqi leader will beat his last showing: 99.96 percent.
In Iraq, people interviewed on government tours for visiting reporters said the 1995 results were too tepid.
"This time, 100 percent," worker Mayad Aiwan said. "Because the Iraqi people love our leader."
But with only Saddam's name appearing on the ballot, it does appear as if his people don't have much choice.
Shopkeepers hung colorful banners, voicing support for Saddam, on dreary storefronts in the smoggy city.
"Yes, yes, yes Saddam," "Iraq will win, God save our leader," the banners proclaimed in Arabic, in slogans repeated with modest variations on posters nationwide.
"Yes, yes, yes Saddam. No, no, no USA," declared one such banner, in English, on a school wall on the road to a complex that Washington suspects is a nuclear site.
In what rights groups universally call one of the world's most oppressive regimes, it is difficult to determine how ordinary Iraqis truly view the ballot.
But on Baghdad's streets, people voiced support. All were questioned Sunday in the presence of a government-appointed minder, officially required of all foreign press.
"This vote will be the challenge of the Iraqi people to the United States," engineer Achmed Abdul Sahib said outside a bus station. "More than last time. More than 99 percent."
But there was only silence after an awkward question posed in the presence of the minder: Why the 0.04 percent "no" vote in the last election?
Curious soldiers stopped and clustered behind the minder, who hesitated at the question and appeared relieved after being told that he didn't have to answer.
The country's media estimate that more than 11 million Iraqis will cast ballots today.
Most polling places are schools. Iraqis ages 18 and above will enter with their voter cards and be handed the ballot with the "Yes" or "No" boxes.
Iraq already has announced celebrations "like a wedding night" for Saddam's expected election victory.
Many Iraqis who say America is picking a fight with their country at a time when their lives were getting a little better say their vote for Saddam will be a message of defiance to the United States.
"Our message for outside is we love Saddam Hussein," housewife Tatisar Mahdi said , with a toddler staring from behind the folds of her black robe.


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