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Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Iraq's surreal referendum
Iraqi's celebrating Saddam Hussein's referendum victory
Firing in the air - not in anger but in celebration

In the fourth of his postcards from Iraq for BBC News Online, Roger Hearing gets a little nervous.

I wouldn't say I was more than averagely jumpy, but the sight and sound of a bright arc of anti-aircraft fire in the night sky over Baghdad certainly gave me cause for concern.

Iraqis made a big show of affection for their leader
Iraqis are not worried that no-one outside the country is impressed by the referendum
This is, after all, the middle of an international crisis, and air raids are part of what people here are expecting over the next few months.

But there were none of the accompanying explosions, no fires, no sirens.

The traffic, five floors down in front of the hotel, continued to swirl around the intersection as normal.

Early celebrations

No, the crackle of gunfire was all part of the official celebration, marking what, technically, we still weren't supposed to know for several hours.

Saddam Hussein had won the referendum for another seven-year term as president, squeezing in with 100% of the vote.

Dealing with that 100%, for an outsider, is actually quite hard.

Vote counting
Not a single vote went against the Iraqi leader
The 99.96% he got in the last referendum was extraordinary enough.

But there are now 11.5 million voters.

To believe that every last one of them - there was a 100% turnout, too - marked a ballot paper with "yes" and put it in the box... well, even discounting ballot-stuffing and other irregularities, that's pretty impressive.

Something to shout about, and for Iraqis, clearly, something to shoot about too.

Not caring

But there's something more important.

It's almost as if they don't expect the outside world to believe it - or don't much care either way.

The message, perhaps, is more subtle than that.

This referendum shows how well-organised and in-charge the government of Saddam Hussein's Iraq still is; how confident this battered and isolated system remains; and how tough a nut it will be if the US decides to try cracking it.

And if that does happen, all the celebratory gunfire has shown that there are still plenty of conventional weapons in Iraq, and sanctions haven't left them so short of ammunition that they can't still let off a few rounds, just for fun.



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13 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Middle East
11 Oct 02 | Americas
02 Oct 02 | Americas
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
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