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Too Angry or Fearful to Vote, Sunni Iraqis Are Marginalized
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 11 - Abdullah Muhammad al-Ajili was standing next to his old Toyota pickup on the dusty road from Baghdad to Tikrit, simmering with resentment, the sleeves on his dark blue dishdasha rolled up on his forearms.
Mr. Ajili tries to make a living by filling the back of his pickup with fruits and vegetables in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, and selling them in other cities. But on Thursday afternoon, as on so many other days, the road was blocked by American military convoys moving armored vehicles, portable living quarters and other matériel.
"I didn't vote, and I'm not going to vote," said Mr. Ajili, 46, who like nearly everyone else in these parts is a Sunni Arab. "Saddam was bad. But this situation is worse."
Voting, he said, would change nothing. And so Mr. Ajili explained why no ballot had been cast by one of the millions of Sunni Arabs who were absent from the polls.
The unchallenged ruling class under Mr. Hussein, Sunnis decided with remarkable consistency to skip the election of the new government. Iraq's other major groups, including Kurds and Shiite Arabs, turned out in overwhelming numbers.
As a result, the Sunnis will have almost no representation in the government, whose outlines will become clear as the final election results trickle in over the next few days.
A complete picture of the Sunnis' fall, however, emerges only in an exploration of why they turned their backs on a chance to maintain a foothold in the halls of power that they controlled for so long.
Conversations with about four dozen Sunni Arabs in Mosul and the road to Tikrit in the north, in Baghdad and Falluja in central Iraq and in Zubayr in the south reveal a people who are not just determined objectors to the turn their country has taken: they are a subculture set adrift, almost unconnected to the events now shaping Iraq.
There is no single factor that explains why the Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of Iraq's 28 million people, failed to show up for the election. Some were scared, either of general violence or retaliation. Some had little information. Others simply long for the old days of Mr. Hussein, and others like Mr. Ajili disliked their former leader but hate the Americans much more intensely. Still others believed that they were following the vague directives of their political and religious leaders.
With most of the vote for the new national assembly counted in Salahuddin Province, which is heavily Sunni Arab, it now seems there was just one vote cast for every eight of those people eligible. On Friday, new figures for a dozen provinces showed high turnouts in voting for local governing councils in the Kurdish, Christian and Turkmen north and in the largely Shiite south. In Dohuk, in the north, the turnout was 89 percent of registered voters; in Najaf, in the south, it was 73 percent.
There were no new figures on the majority Sunni Arab provinces, but in Diyala, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite composition, the turnout was just 34 percent. Baghdad, which includes all groups, had a 48 percent turnout in local elections.
Officials say that overall, 60.1 percent of all registered voters cast ballots in the 12 provinces in local elections. Final results in both local and national elections are expected over the next few days.
But the picture for the Sunni provinces is not expected to improve, American officials said. One official said the turnout in Anbar Province, which contains Falluja, would probably be in the "single digits."
In many respects, the voting is an accurate reflection of the Sunni Arabs' descent in just two years from a clan defined by the exercise of power to a broken and disenfranchised people with little stake in the system.
"I have to liberate my country first, and then hold the election," said Imad Abdul-Hadi, 27, in Zubayr, a southern Sunni enclave. "And who said the election is honest?"
In the same city, Muna Ali, 32, said the choices of party candidates meant that any vote cast by a Sunni Arab would have been wasted. "There is no need to participate in the election," Ms. Ali said, "because there is no one to represent us."
But even some Sunni Arabs who might have voted stood little chance, given their situation. "No, I didn't vote," said Muhammad Younis Thanoon, 26, a teacher in Mosul. "I was confused."