- The Washington Times - Friday, December 16, 2005

KIRKUK, Iraq — Kurdish women clad in traditional dresses adorned with sashes and sequins voted in droves yesterday — their numbers equaling those of men.

Both were hoping to bring real change to Iraq by selecting the country’s first permanent body of lawmakers since the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“Our goal is to first help our people and then help rebuild Iraq,” said Luqman Mohammed Rashid Wardak, a campaign official for the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP, along with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, form the backbone of the highly influential Kurdish coalition of parties, outnumbered in Iraqi political circles only by the Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance.

The scene was repeated throughout the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

“We want to prove to the whole world that we are a nation and we exist,” said Saman Shawkat, a 25-year-old car mechanic who brought his entire family with him to the polling station in Sulaymaniyah, near the border with Iran.

Asked whether he was worried that the participation of Sunni Muslims in the electoral process after a previous boycott would dilute the Kurdish vote, Mr. Shawkat shook his head.

“We aren’t afraid,” he said, standing by a polling station and wearing traditional baggy wool Kurdish trousers.

“We admit they are a good nation, and just like us, they have the right to vote. We are a free nation,” Mr. Shawkat told Reuters news agency.

For decades, the Kurds were forced to cower under Saddam’s rule.

Those days are gone, though certainly not forgotten.

“They honestly feel they have ‘right’ on their side since they suffered through ethnic cleansing,” one Western official in Iraq said.

Iraq’s fledgling and fragile democracy already has a Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani.

No longer terrorized by their own government, the ethnic group holds serious political sway.

Many said yesterday they hoped Kurdish leaders would help them reconstruct homes and cities destroyed by Saddam’s regime.

Thousands of Kurds still live as refugees in makeshift mud homes scattered throughout northern Iraq’s Kirkuk city and province, unable to afford the cost of building a house.

Meanwhile, they remain targets of Sunni insurgents who still terrorize them in ethnically diverse cities such as Kirkuk, which is almost evenly divided among Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.

Some voters such as 18-year-old Sagar Sami are optimistic that the insurgents’ days in Iraq are numbered as peaceful politicking begins to take root here.

“After the election, the insurgency will be diminished,” he said assuredly while waiting to cast his ballot in Kirkuk for leaders of the Kurdish coalition, hopeful that it will bring Kurds one vote closer to securing their political future in Iraq.

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