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At the Polls

Even in the Wake of Suicide Blast, 'They Didn't Want to Go Back Home'

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 31, 2005; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Jan. 30 -- The young man wore a winter jacket over his explosive vest and approached the polling station with his hands in the pockets.

"Take your hands out of your pockets," said Ali Jabur, the Iraqi police officer in charge of patting down voters on the street outside. The young man obliged by throwing his arms wide, and blew them both to bits.

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Three hours later, in streets still littered with the bomber's remains, some very determined voters streamed into the Badr Kobra High School for Girls, intent on casting the ballots that they called a repudiation of the terrorist attacks meant to scare them away.

"I would have been happy to have died voting at the time of this explosion, because this is terrorism mixed with rudeness," said Saif Aldin Jarah, 61, a balding man with white hair who leaned on his daughter, Shyamaa, as he shuffled into the afternoon sunlight after casting his ballot.

"When terrorism becomes aimless and without a goal, it becomes rudeness," Jarah said, holding aloft a finger stained purple with indelible ink. "How could they force people not to vote?"

The question was answered emphatically in Baghdad's Zayuna neighborhood.

The blast at the high school killed five people and wounded seven. It blackened the pavement and brought a U.S. Army patrol racing to the tidy streets of an upper-middle-class neighborhood named for a developer's daughter.

It also could have accomplished here what Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose organization asserted responsibility for 13 suicide attacks Sunday, vowed to do all over Iraq: derail the election.

When the suicide bomber at the high school struck shortly before 11 a.m., the polling site had been growing busy after a slow start. But Hadi Saleh Mohammed, the election official in charge, felt he had no choice but to close it down. There were the wounded to evacuate, a gruesome mess to clean up, security to reassess.

While all that went forward, the voters stood at the end of the block, waiting.

"They wanted to come back in," Mohammed said. "They didn't want to go back home."

Why not?

"First, people want to stop this terrorism that's breeding in this country. Second, the religious leadership wanted people to vote. And third, people have had enough of time wasted. They want to get their permanent government."

So the polling place reopened. On the advice of the U.S. troops, the security perimeter was pushed back a block, so people could be frisked twice before entering the school.

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