As Iraqis prepare to hold a landmark election the BBC News website resumes its daily Iraq log. For two weeks, we will be publishing a range of accounts from people inside Iraq about their day-to-day lives.
You can bookmark this page and come back to read the latest posts each day.
I CAN'T TELL ANYONE I'M A CANDIDATE
Posted by Zeina candidate, Baghdad, 24 January
As a candidate in the election, I can't do that much. I'm afraid to give you my full name because if people opposed to the election find out they may come to the house and kill us. I can't tell strangers that I am running in the election. Our party, the National Democratic Party, has more than 300 members and about 30 candidates in the election, half of whom are women.
Conditions in Baghdad at the moment are very poor. There is little electricity or gas, we have to queue for hours to get just a little bit of gas for our cars. As you know, in Baghdad there are daily bombs and many people are being killed.
You see posters of the candidates for the main parties all over Baghdad. You can even run into some of these publicly declared candidates at private meetings, but they have heavy security. You never see them on the streets, meeting voters and campaigning in the normal way. It's just not safe.
It is hard to be a candidate in this election. I do go out and meet people, but most of them are relations or friends or colleagues, one way or another. I hope nothing terrible happens on election day. People are praying it will go smoothly.
I think it will also be hard for people who want to vote. People will be afraid to go to the polling stations, and given the difficulty of campaigning, people just don't know who they are voting for. But I and all my family will be voting - I think we can vote near where we live in the centre of Baghdad. I'm desperate to vote. I want a better future for my country and this will help.
I also think that Sunni Muslims in Iraq will change their minds and vote. They want to but are being intimidated. If they don't vote, they will not be represented at the centre of power and this in itself will cause problems. Unity, against the killers and bombers, is the key for Iraq as a whole.
As for the US soldiers, for the time being it is good that they stay. Without them the situation would be terrible. But, long term, they must leave.
I am a housewife at the moment, but I used to be a librarian. If I am elected, my priority will be to change the situation of children in our society. At the moment few have schools, or anywhere to go to play safely. That's my main election promise - to work to improve life for children.
NO SIGN OF ELECTION HERE
Posted by Tariq al-Ani student, Hit, 24 January
There are many reasons why people won't vote where I am. One is security - people are frightened that the polling stations could be bombed. Another reason is that people don't feel they have a lot to gain from voting. The Shia people in the south want to vote. They were abused under Saddam Hussein and hope they can gain some power in the future through the election. On election day, I'll be staying home with my family. I think that 90% of the people in Hit will do the same.
After the elections in Hit it will be fine, there will be no civil war, no big military operations. People here want to keep things calm.
There is no sign that an election is about to happen in this town - there are no posters, no one talks about the election, there are no meetings or campaigning, even in private. The whole thing is very remote for people in Hit.
The situation here is bad like elsewhere. There are shortages of basic things like gasoline. The vast majority of people have lost their jobs. People get by any way they can. Some have turned to crime, there is a lot of robbery and looting.
It's safe to be out and about in Hit during the day, but after sunset it gets dangerous and after midnight even more dangerous. You don't know where the threat is coming from, there is a lot of random shooting and you don't know who is doing the shooting. This has been going on for a long time. During the day you can go to the market, you can go driving, but once it gets dark, that's it. As for the police, they won't and can't do much, and most of the time they are themselves hiding from trouble.
The violence here has become ordinary. It surprises me how my family copes. If there is a big bomb attack or a bombing by the American forces we all feel frightened, but life soon gets back to normal.
What we have a problem with in Hit is internally displaced people. When the Americans attacked Falluja many people moved here. People here were against the attack on Falluja and offered their assistance to people from the city. There are deep family ties between Hit and Falluja. At the time, we also were worried that the American forces would come here as well. There are still many Fallujans in Hit, probably about 1,000 families altogether and we do what we can to assist them. Some are trying to get jobs here. They're not planning to go back to Falluja any time soon.
I AM ALWAYS AWARE THAT I AM A TARGET
Posted by Elma American contractor, near Mosul, 24 January
I am an American woman working as a contractor in Northern Iraq, south of Mosul. I spent the first six months of my time here in Mosul. I had no prior experience of war, and I wasn't really sure what to expect. I still am not sure I have the words to describe what I've witnessed these last few months. I've been shot at incessantly, friends of mine have been killed, and have seen far more than I ever wanted to see. One should be careful what one asks for; one may just get it.
Anyway, these days find me in a rather quiet corner of the country - yes, there are quiet corners - a little south of Mosul proper. There is no shooting here - there is nothing at all here. The entire facility is bounded by endless nothingness. Even so, I know I am in Iraq, and I know just how dangerous this country is. I can never truly relax here. I know I am a target.
I fear that the future here is bleak - for us, the Americans, and for the Iraqis. When I first came here I met Iraqis, enjoyed speaking with them, and made friends with a few. It has been a long time since I have seen any of them. They have been killed, kidnapped, or simply disappeared for reasons of self-preservation.
I am afraid I am not very objective about all of this, as it is unfolding around me. I am a part of it now, and I can only speak of what I have seen. Fairy tales begin with "Once upon a time..." and end with "...happily ever after". This isn't a fairy tale. This is a nightmare, and I don't know when I will wake up. The election is being advertised as a turning point for Iraq - but the departure of the Coalition Provisional Authority was supposed to be one such turning point.
These are some of the comments we have received so far about this log.
I have no understanding of what your situation is really like Zeina as I live in wonderful, peaceful Australia. All I can say is that I am in awe of your courage. I work with children and I truly hope your desire for their safety and chance to play in peace is realised. Good luck and my thoughts are with you and all those in Iraq who desire to make their country a wonderful place to bring up their children.
Lyn Hodkinson, Australia
As an Arab, it is disheartening and very sad to hear and watch what our brothers and sisters in Iraq are going through every day. We watch and hear of their pains but do nothing. We send them what we can on an individual basis, but that is a drop in the ocean to what they need. I also believe that there are many Arab countries pray that the Iraqi mission do not succeed and fail - as they will be next! It is in their interest to keep the mess inside Iraq like they did during the Lebanese civil war. They should learn better and stop.
Mahmood Abdul Hussain, Bahrain
Zeina, I'm an American. I write to express how much I admire your courage and I how much I admire the courage of every Iraqi who votes. Please remember that under democracy, the good people will always win in the long run.
Michael Lusk, Sunnyvale, USA
I hope that many people will have the courage to vote! They - and you, Zeina, as a candidate - deserve our highest respect. Let's hope that the bloodshed can be contained and that you will have a new beginning, which you deserve.
Brigitte Bischoff-Doll, Germany
So anxious to get an unfiltered stream of info from the ordinary Iraqi citizen. Thanks BBC for the service - good job!
David Gebhardt, Dallas, Texas
Today, I registered for elections! Security was good, and also, I found out that to register one does not have to put one's personal address in the list of registrants. This is the case in all the 14 countries hosting this historic event. It felt really good to register. I am praying for the safety of all voters. After sleepless nights thinking about all the complicated issues concerning elections under occupation, I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have a democracy under occupation than never! We Iraqis can start with voting, then push for real independence.
Junea, Toronto, Canada
Be brave. Be strong. Do not listen to the (European) nay-sayers who would prefer Iraqi people to suffer failure, rather than admit that history will prove you (and the countries who gave you this opportunity) brave and courageous and just.
Hassan, New York City, USA
If candidates are so afraid to contact voters and are forced to hide their identity, than of course it is not an election but a mockery of one. Democracy does not means counting some votes polled by one unknown for another unknown. An election may only be held in a free and fair atmosphere where every person - candidate or voter - has the freedom to express his will.
Smagha, New Delhi, India
I feel deeply sorry for the average citizen in Iraq who, regardless of disposition, is being judged on extremist political and religious factors. An American juggernaut trying to save face and a frenzied fundamentalist movement hellbent on all out holy war have turned Iraq into chaos and anarchy. Vote - it's all you can do and it's your only hope of stability.
Gareth Evans, London, UK
I'm just wondering, i know some of the oil fields were burned by Saddam's men before his fall, but surely there is a lot of oil left? If there is a shortage of gasoline, surely this problem could be solved quickly with a little bit of help from coalition governments? We're quick to give aid to the tsunami but not victims of war and oppression. The government that is. How much is being/will be given to help rebuild Iraq?
Jonny, Nottingham, UK
It is sad to see that because of some fanatics many people lose their lives. I feel sorry for the people who go around blowing themselves up to kill the innocent and hoping for a piece of heaven - this brainwashed mentality has to stop. If only we could set our religious and cultural beliefs aside this world would be a better place. Good luck to the Iraqis and strength to the US forces.
Pedro, Maputo, Mozambique
I want this election to pass without casualties, Iraq was run by a brutal candidate before and this will not happen again. A big shame for those who still don't want democracy which will bring the peace for all Iraqis.
kiss, Bedford, England
There are certain events that will forever define a country, this first election being one of them. The courage of any Iraqi people who go and vote is inspiring to the rest of the world. I truly don't believe the US meant to turn your land into a frontline for fighting terrorism and the rest of the world should take note of how the majority of the people have been able to cope. Thank you for your bravery.
Eric Wigton, St Louis, USA
I don't think many Americans can truly appreciate your situation due to the sterilisation of US news media, although many of us try - this forum helps. Ultimately, though, it is your country and you have a say and a responsibility. One man or woman alone has only hope and faith. A country united is as strong as its people. Do the weapons of the few outnumber the faith and the hope of the masses? Be strong. Be heard.
Kevin, Bellevue, USA
My heart and thoughts will be with all Iraqi citizens this whole week and I pray that all who can will find the courage to lead their country and their lives into an unbelievably better new era. Please, please - if you can, do try to vote. It is the Iraqi citizens right now, who are the real heroes - the real soldiers.
Michael Bennett, Nova Scotia, Canada
The comments from the American lady reflect what most of the contractors coming back here from Iraq say - when will Bush realise that emperor has no clothes?
Ken Fleming, Houston, Texas, USA
I am saddened by the number of killings leading up to the elections in Iraq. I fully supported the idea of not postponing the elections as it would only delay the opportunity for Iraq to be governed by Iraqis. I also do not understand why Muslims are killing Muslims. Do these terrorists want to follow the same route Saddam used to gain control of Iraq?
Stanton Clarke, Newbury, UK
American citizens, please devote some of your time in reading these articles. Then you will know how much the American media misinforms.
Usuf, Kannur, India
My heart goes out to all the Iraqis that really do want peace and a free and democratic country. They are being so intimidated that you cannot blame them for being scared to mention their names. I would say to Zeina that we want to leave Iraq as bad as you want us to leave, however, we all know it would be total anarchy if we were to withdraw too soon. But believe me, we want to leave but at the same time we want to leave the country with a government that can stand up to the terrorists. Please vote and take your country back from the terrorists and Baathists who want to continue to repress the citizens.
Steve, Brno, Czech Republic
This is an understatement of the difficulties in Baghdad at the moment. According to other sources there has been little or no running water for the past week or so. This is really a very serious and dangerous situation and brings disgrace on us as the occupying authority.
Alan Murphy, Cheltenham, UK
It was really helpful to read the stories of people inside Iraq in a day to day format without editorialising the stories.
Bridget, Buffalo, USA
It's too bad the country we're supposedly "giving back to the Iraqi people" has become a veritable living hell because of those very efforts. Still, good luck to every one of you.
Dan Turk, Philadelphia, US
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