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Cablegate: Ambassador, Senators Praise Iraqi Voters, Election Process

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS HILLAH 000377

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM KPAO IZ
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR, SENATORS PRAISE IRAQI VOTERS, ELECTION PROCESS
AT BABIL PROVINCE POLLING STATION

REF: HILLAH 0341

1. (U) Summary: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. Senators
Joseph Biden, Lindsay Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Maria Cantwell
praised the Iraqi people for their participation in the national
election before a group of Western and Iraqi reporters outside a
downtown Al-Hillah polling station December 15. "I want to
congratulate the Iraqi people on a good day, a great day,"
Ambassador Khalilzad declared. The Ambassador assured the Iraqis
that the U.S. would stay with them until the Iraqis were able to
stand on their own feet. Senator Biden added that he was looking
forward to the formation of an Iraqi government and the
development of the Iraqi Constitution. End summary.

2. (U) Ambassador Khalilzad and the Senators were greeted by
Al-Hillah Mayor Imad Lefta Al-Bayati and Babil Province Police
Chief General Qais Hamza Aboud Mahmori outside the Al-Waili High
School, in downtown Al-Hillah, one of 268 provincial polling
centers. Ambassador Khalilzad commented on the refuse in the
streets and suggested to the Mayor that USG and the local
government explore ways to assist the city and improve the
situation. The delegation joined sporadic groups of young Iraqi
men and families, many carrying small children, walking towards
the front gate of the school courtyard. Independent Electoral
Commission of Iraq (IECI) officials and the male and female
security screeners on duty welcomed the Ambassador and his party
warmly.

3. (U) After passing another security screen and entering the
high school, the Ambassador and the Senators turned down a
narrow hallway where four classrooms had been converted into
polling stations. Ambassador Khalilzad congratulated a handful
of voters in the first room as Mayor Lefta explained the voting
process, a set of successive steps in which the voter checks his
or her name, receives a ballot, marks the ballot and folds it
behind a screen, dips a finger in indelible purple ink, and
deposits the ballot in a large plastic box.

4. (U) Election observers from the Badr Organization, the Iraqi
National Accord (INA), the Iraqi Election Information Network
(EIN) and another local non-governmental organization were in
the room, and Ambassador Khalilzad asked them if they could
challenge voters. The observers replied that they could. The
Ambassador and the Senators then dipped their own fingers in the
ink, held them up and told the voters, IECI staff, and Western
and Iraqi press crowded into the room how proud they were to
witness the voting process. Iraqis continued to walk into the
other voting rooms as the Ambassador and the Senators stood
inside the first polling station in the hallway.

5. (U) Outside the school, the Ambassador and Senators took
questions from reporters from outlets that included the Los
Angeles Times, the Sunday Telegraph, Reuters, and the Iraqi news
outlets Al-Mada newspaper, Al-Fayhaa newspaper, Ishtar
newspaper, Al-Diyar TV, Al-Watan newspaper, and Al-Sabah
newspaper. "I want to congratulate the Iraqi people on a good
day, a great day," Ambassador Khalilzad told the assembled
press. "I want to assure them that we will be with them until
they can stand on their own feet."

6. (U) "The organization is impressive. The turnout is
impressive," Senator Biden offered. "We look forward to getting
the results counted, and watching the Iraqis form a government."
Senators Graham and Cantwell praised the Iraqi people for their
bravery, and Senator Chambliss declared, "We are very happy to
be here today to get the chance to observe history being made.
Iraq is very justly and rightly a proud country today, and we're
happy to be here."

7. (U) Asked about Sunni turnout and the prospects for
disaffected Sunnis engaging in the political process, Ambassador
Khalilzad related, "my hope is that the role of bullets will
decline, and the role of politics, of compromise, of political
competition will increase. This is a first step, an important
step. Democracy is on the march." Senator Chambliss proclaimed
the day, "a great victory for the Iraqi people."

8. (U) "We saw today that the Iraqi people want to vote. They
want to choose their leaders," Senator Biden observed. Then,
referring to the process of choosing a government and finalizing
those constitutional articles not finalized in the initial
drafting process, Senator Biden added, "now the hard part of
democracy comes." Senator Graham offered some advice to the
Iraqi reporters present. Americans took 11 years to arrive at
their Constitution, Senator Graham observed. He explained that
it took over 100 years for women to be granted the right to
vote. "Learn from our mistakes," the Senator suggested.
FONTENEAU

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