- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

BAGHDAD — Used-car merchant Kadhem Rubayee and his schoolteacher wife, Jenan Abed Radhi, dropped their ballots into the clear plastic boxes as an investment in their future, as well as their nation’s.

Though the country’s fate weighed heavily on their minds, the couple longed for better economic futures for themselves and for their 12-year-old daughter, Sani, whom they brought with them to the polling station in Baghdad’s Karada district.

“The best thing that would help is if the new government will give us a piece of land so we can build a house and live in it,” said Mr. Rubayee, 47, who complained that exploding housing costs had eaten away at his modest earnings. “Everything else we can work on ourselves.”

For many in the international community, Sunday’s elections were about confronting terrorism and determining the future of democracy in the Muslim world.

But bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, education and health care also brought Iraqis to the polls.

Mrs. Radhi, 40, who teaches in a grammar school, said she wanted the government to raise teachers’ salaries in order to stamp out “bad habits” teachers acquired under the previous regime.

“Teachers in the past, because they were so badly off, were taking bribes from students for grades and tutoring rich students for extra money,” she said.

“We’d like the new government to give us better salaries so we can get rid of these bad habits.”

Many Iraqis suffered tremendous economic hardship during 12 years of grinding U.N. sanctions on the country. Sana Naji Abdul Amir sold off her jewelry and family heirlooms to make ends meet on a salary equivalent to $2 per month as an employee of a state-owned insurance company.

Though she now earns about $330 per month, Mrs. Amir said, she feels compelled to make up for the lost years.

“I don’t have a house to live in,” said the 47-year-old mother of two daughters attending college. “Now I hope I can catch up.”

Muhammad Ahmad Fattah, 43, an employee of Middle East Bank of Iraq, hopes that after the government tackles the country’s terrorism problem it can tame soaring prices.

“We have to improve the value of the Iraqi dinar,” he said after casting his vote. “It’s true that our salaries have improved, but there’s so much inflation.”

Whoever assumes the mantle of power in Iraq will have to battle insurgents and accommodate the rising expectations of young Iraqis like Sandra Nadhem, 30, who has an accounting degree but has yet to find a job.

“I want peace to come to the country so that women can go and out find jobs,” she said. “When we feel secure, I’ll start searching for a decent job.”

All the major political groupings have promised voters peace and prosperity, but many Iraqi voters wonder whether they can deliver.

“We have a lot of problems,” said pharmacology student Sabah Omar, 25, in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. “There is no electricity, no water and no real freedom. There is a lot of unemployment, and salaries are not good for retired people. Lands are only distributed to members of big parties. There are many promises. No one has delivered.”

But Abdul Abdullah Ibrahim, a 38-year-old owner of a curtain store, said any government that represented the Iraqi people eventually would lift everyone’s boats.

“The most important thing is that the government will recognize me as a human being,” he said. “Then, when the society begins to build up and the economy builds up, everyone will do better.”

• Delphine Minoui in Irbil contributed to this article.

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