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Iraq Transition

Democracy finds hope in Iraqi town

By Arwa Damon

Butcher Abd Al-Khadar Ali Khayab says he'll vote for a sheikh from his tribe.
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KARMA, Iraq (CNN) -- The concept of democracy appears to have taken root in the dusty town of Karma, a predominantly Sunni community of 75,000 people about nine miles (15 kilometers) northeast of Falluja.

Karma sprawls for miles along the canals of the Euphrates River, with its little communities of sandy brick houses, each separated by the bright colors of laundry hanging out to dry. Patches of bright green grass dot the landscape. Herds of sheep and goats drink from the river while children run behind Humvees screaming "Mister! Mister!" as Marines on their daily patrols throw them candy.

Troops from the Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7) of the 1st Marine Division meet with local leaders, sheiks and the people of Karma to try to gauge their sentiment about the upcoming elections. They distribute flyers that read: "Participate in the elections to build a strong Iraq" and "Vote! The future is in your hands."

But many villagers are not as interested in talking about the elections as they are about the lack of petrol, gas, electricity and work. They say they receive their information about the elections from TV and say no one has campaigned or even hung campaign posters in their community.

Although most say they don't know who the candidates are or where to go to vote, they say they will vote come January 30.

Shakir Jiyad Aswad, father of 10, said Karma residents want to elect a nationalist, someone to preserve religion and defend holy places. "We want one Iraq," he said. "I'll probably vote for [Iraq's interim President Ghazi] al-Yawar."

He took the opportunity to tell Col. Craig Tucker, commander of RCT-7, about the generator he said was bombed during the Falluja offensive in November. The colonel promised to send a civil affairs team to file a claim for him the next day.

Abd Al-rahman, a 24-year-old Iraq Force Protection Services employee says he'll vote for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He says he has received a 200,000 Iraqi dinar bonus from him.

Ghanem Juhayir, 20, says he's been out of work for months. He says Allawi harmed the community by allowing the Falluja offensive. "The Iraqi forces are worse than the Americans, and Allawi controls them," he explains. He says he expects to learn about the candidates on TV. And if not, he will probably vote for al-Yawar.

Farther down the road, Iraqis are also preoccupied with what's lacking. They tell Col. Tucker they want to vote but don't know who to vote for.

"We get our information from the TV. But then the power goes out and we have no TV," one man says. Abd Al-Khadar Ali Khayab, a butcher and father of nine, says he'll vote for one of the sheiks of his tribe he has heard is running. But he doesn't know which list he's on or who any of the others on the list are.

His white dishdasha is splattered with blood, having just slaughtered seven sheep for the Eid holiday. "Financially our situation is zero," he says, knives still in hand. "But we hope that things will get better after the elections."


Some displaced Fallujans now live near a canal in abandoned buildings and tents.

Abd Al-Khader moved his family of 12 out of Falluja and in with relatives in the area. He says there are 11 families living in three rooms and two tents. He made the trip back and found his home in the Andalus neighborhood destroyed.

"Of course I am going to vote. We need something to change, we can't live like this," he says. But he does not know whom he'll vote for or who the candidates are. A man standing near him said "Allawi, al-Yawar, it doesn't matter. I am not going to vote."

"Do you know when the elections are?" Col. Tucker asked a group of five men. "Yes, it's the 29th," one answered.

Thalab Sarbat Ali, the traditional community leader called the "Mukhtar," said he is encouraging people to vote. "It's simple," he says. "You just tick on a box and that's it."

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