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.
In our second instalment, we hear about the further struggles of a candidate to gain some publicity, a US serviceman witnesses some Iraqi election fever, and children have questions about voting.
You can bookmark this page and come back to read the latest posts each day.
EVERY NIGHT WE PACK UP AND GO TO STAY WITH RELATIVES
Posted by Tariq al-Ani student, Hit, 25 January
Because my house is in a dangerous area on the main roads between Ramadi and Hit I have to move my family at night. Many families are seeking safe havens at the moment. There is an industrial complex nearby which is where criminals sometimes hide, and where there is fighting every day. So every night I pack my family up in our car and drive across the bridge to my relatives' homes several miles from Hit.
Strangely, we don't see that many insurgents at the moment. About 20 days ago you could still see them driving around, with masks on their faces and their heads covered, but I think they came to an arrangement with the local leader. I think when they thought about Falluja and the possibility of a massive US attack, they realised they didn't want the same to happen to Hit. After all, they are locals, not foreign fighters.
At the moment things are still quiet. I try most nights to have dinner at home with my family, although sometimes we get to go out and visit people elsewhere. I try to keep the children busy - all but two of them are at school now, but they are on holiday at the moment. Sometimes we try and go for picnics and short outings. I take my sons fishing or we play football with their cousins.
A day or two ago my eldest son came back from school and told me he had heard about the elections from friends at school. He said he didn't know how to vote. "How do I elect Allawi?" he asked, "by shouting 'Allawi?'" I said no, and then explained how you take a piece of paper, tick beside a person's name and put it in a box. So I gave him some information, although no-one talks about it much here where we are.
They know what is going on. You can still hear the aircraft, the shooting and the bombing at night. It is so loud even though at night we are some distance from Hit. It's like we are on a frontline.
SOME DAYS BAGHDAD CAN FEEL ALMOST NORMAL
Posted by Zeina candidate, Baghdad, 25 January
The electricity is only on for about an hour a day now in Baghdad. We get by using gas or kerosene, which we buy from men who go around the streets in our neighbourhood with a horse and carriage. It is expensive - about 10,000 dinars or US $6 for a gallon and we have to make it last for two days.
We can still go to the market, sometimes if there is no petrol we have to walk, but you can still buy everything you want in the shops - fresh fruit and vegetables. Sometimes shopping is the only chance to get outside. We sometimes go to our social club - we went there for Eid but only for lunch, not dinner as we used to do because it's too dangerous to be out late.
In the day when we walk along the streets in Baghdad, things can seem quite normal in some areas. You see kids with their parents, grandparents, young couples. But when it gets to four or five o'clock, the streets are just empty. No one is around.
People spend the whole time talking about the power shortages and lack of jobs, or they talk about someone who was killed. Sometimes we try to change the subject but it's hard. Many of our friends are doctors. Many of them have been very badly affected by what they have seen - the dead and the injured. They become almost mad. It's hard to imagine how they must feel.
This month we haven't seen our friends much, just those who live near to us in the neighbourhood. After all how can we? We have no petrol, and we can't cross the bridges in the city because if something happened the security forces just close them all and we won't be able to get back to our home.
As I've said, it's hard for me to campaign. All that's happened so far this week, in terms of campaigning, is that my party printed and gave me some cards with my name and the party name on it. I gave these to my friends who then hand them on to people they know.
I have relatives outside Baghdad, to the west, and they told me they haven't even been able to register to vote. The registration papers were stolen by insurgents who are trying to stop people voting by any means they can. I sent them some cards over the weekend to give to people where they live, but they said they couldn't distribute them as it was too dangerous for me and them. They said someone would kill me.
I PREDICT LONG LINES ON ELECTION DAY
Lieutenant Bryan Suits US soldier, Baghdad, 25 January
All of my opinions are my own and they are based upon personal experiences gained over the course of 11 months.
I grew up in a town called Port Angeles in the state of Washington. One year, we elected a college professor to the City Council. He was a singularly brilliant and idealistic man. He was also a former member of the Hitler Youth. He came to America as a young man and became a citizen. He served several terms and when he died several years ago, he was remembered as a great American. I tell the story of Werner Quast to any Iraqi who has time to listen, and lately Iraqis seem to turn every conversation towards government and democracy.
As usual, security continues to be a primary concern among Iraqis. But I haven't met anyone who will not participate in the first meaningful vote in their lives. My translators become irritated and anxious because I can't guarantee the day off for them to stand in line. I have to remind myself that I have no idea what this represents to an Iraqi. It's not just an election. It's a statement to other Arab states about Iraqi pride. And Iraqis are proud and amazingly patriotic.
I am as jaded as anyone else who was raised in a stable republic, but it's become infectious to talk about 30 January with Iraqis on the street. I don't blame those who refuse to risk their lives to vote for an interim government. However, many are furious at Zarqawi's virtual declaration of war against the democracy and Shia Muslims. And of course, the practiced cynicism of the adult Iraqi male is on display to anyone with a TV camera.
For me, I'll continue my regular patrols in my area on Baghdad's southern edge. I predict long lines on election day. I feel lucky to witness this event.
These are some of the comments we have received so far about this log.
Some of the comments refer to previous logs:
Why are there no loggers from the Kurdistan region? They would have been more fun as the security there is better.
Timsa, London, UK
I'm in Iraq just now doing a six-week tour and already things are hotting up. The streets are very busy with crowds of people and feuds and fights are breaking out through out the city of Basra. Here the families and civilians don't know what way to take us - whether we are friendly or an enemy.
Anon, Glasgow, Scotland
The Iraqi people are caught between the world's superpower and the Arab world. This struggle will last for years and no one can determine the outcome now. Put your family first in all that you do and say! Be respectful to the soldiers on each side. Try to be invisible as much as you can until the outcome is clearer. Each side wants you to be on their side but both sides have made it clear that civilians are expendable. Pray for God's protection.
Terry, Athens, Georgia, USA
Thanks a million for providing information about the elections in Iraq. Please let the world know that it is about time that the West began to see that the elections are not the only priority in Iraq. If Allah can help the poor people restart their lives and rebuild their country, that will be in the best direction.
J. Alexander Kanneh, Liberia
I am a Kurd from Iraq. As a Kurdish person I love democracy and I enjoyed it for a few years while I was living in Suleymaniah. I would like to congratulate all nations who are living in Iraq, I tell them it is very nice to see our cities full of freedom, without worrying about anything. We can choose whoever we agree with. Although the situation is hard and sad in some cities or urban areas, the future is bright.
Ali Kurdi, Oxford, UK
It seems obvious that Sunnis will be under-represented due to security concerns, so perhaps it would be best for the government to adapt to the situation pre-emptively by establishing a permanent or semi-permanent community-level mechanism which would allow these citizens to influence their government in innovative ways. Their ideas could be reflected back to them through direct action. In this way, people could participate in government without risking personal harm.
Matthew Houston, San Marcos, Texas, USA
Whatever the situation is in Iraq, it is important that the people turn out in large numbers at this week's first democratic election. Interim Prime Minister Allawi needs your support and even more so now that the insurgents plans to increase their activities in the days ahead without regard for human life. I am particularly amazed that the Shia communities have maintained their level of sanity by not retaliating against their brothers, the Sunnis, despite efforts by Zarqawi to destabilise the country into a civil war. Zeina, you need to continue the fight. The pains for now are short term. But if you and your fellow Iraqis succeed in this coming election, there will be long term benefits for all.
John Uri, Sydney, Australia
I have seen elections under fire. In 1992 in my home state of Punjab, India there were elections held with death threats from militants resulting in a very low turnout. It resulted in the election of a government that went after the militants very hard and brought normalcy to the Punjab in four yrs. By 1996 the Punjab was peaceful again. There is a good chance I think, that history will repeat itself in Iraq. Best wishes to the Iraqi people.
Amit, San Francisco, USA
I want to thank the BBC for publishing these logs. These personal views are not often seen in the mainstream media here in the United States. I appreciate the perspectives of the people who write of their experiences in Iraq, as it allows me and others insight into their situations, and helps personalise it, as they do not use the standard news vocabulary.
Rosa N, Portland, Maine, USA
As an American living in Europe, I would like to second Usuf's remarks (from India) that all Americans should read your daily log. Our media systematically misinformed and misleads us, but there is nothing so compelling as the personal accounts from Iraqis cited in this log.
Victor Val Dere, Paris, France
How can I vote for someone I do not know and believe that they will work to build my rights and open opportunities for me? What will the American media and the Bush Administration say when only a small percentage of the Iraqi people have voted? The truth is that these questions do not matter much. Much of the speculation we hear does not matter much. Iraq is in a state of revolution. I just hope that when the dust has settled that the international corporations leave something for the Iraqi people to build their lives as they see fit. The riches of Iraq belong to the Iraqis.
Morgan Snyder, Uppsala, Sweden
I'm currently a Peace Corps volunteer serving in South America. It feels good to be away from the overwhelming influence of the U.S. media circus for a while (and yes that was good advice coming from India...everyone should diversify their media intake!) Lately though I've been troubled by my nation's split personality. Do we hurt in order to help? Why the bloodletting? Even though I'm far away from both my home and Iraq I hope and pray that this terrible mess will somehow be reconciled and soon. I'll be thinking and praying for the Iraqi election this week and its success.
Geoff Thompson, Lincoln City, Oregon, USA
It has got to be nearly impossible to live in some areas of Iraq under the current conditions. I sympathise and pray for all Iraqi citizens' safety. Dan, if Iraq is a "living hell" it is due to Saddam's actions, not ours. As for what the US press reports, I find these real, first-person reports mild compared to the overblown reporting in our press.
Mark Bastian, Marshfield, Wisconsin, USA
My fear is the forthcoming election will polarise the tribes in Iraq further and lead to more instability, possibly civil war. The argument that the coalition must stay until Iraq becomes more self-reliant is a catch-22, it is their presence that agitates the growing insurgent population. Civil war was recognised as a potential outcome by Middle East analysts prior to the coalition invasion, it seems no one was listening.
Ian MacQuarrie, Peachland, Canada
Be strong. Vote. Show Zarqawi that you won't buckle anymore. There may be more bombs now but that's because the true citizens of Iraq are showing him that they won't take oppression anymore and that scares him. He's desperate and showing it. The people of Iraq are taking control. Zarqawi is losing it. A huge turnout to a successful election is the biggest weapon you have against him and al-Qaeda and it will do him and his cause the most damage. Use that weapon well.
Richard H, UK
I have been luck enough to visit Iraq on several occasions before the Gulf War. I was overwhelmed with the friendliness and hospitality shown to a Western visitor by ordinary Iraqis. I was strongly opposed to the invasion of Iraq as I believed it would break up the country like the former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately there is only one way forward now and that is to try and get the people of Iraq back in charge of Iraq. It will be a slow and painful process and risks civil war, but let us not forget that it took hundreds of years for democracy to take root in the UK. Iraq has the bright people and immense resources to make it one of the richest countries in the world and the future will be bright once there is security. Best wishes to all my friends and family in Iraq and may 2005 bring the start of a new Iraq.
Ron Eccles, Cardiff, UK
Wish you all the best wherever you are, you are so brave. Iraq is so proud of you already. Thanks for trying to heal the wounds though this pain is just too real. From here I'll do my best, I already registered to vote. It is an appeal for peace. We all should help each other and clean the mess. All what we hope for is to wipe those tears and bring life into all Iraq's streets from the north to the south.
What the Iraqi people need is a real strong, yet democratic figure, such as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson type, to rise up and say, "People, we gain more by coming together than breaking apart." What Iraq needs is for some of the people who are hurting to say, "Stop hurting me and my family". Saddam is in the past and his victims are in their graves. If you are afraid you are going to die, then take the ultimate stand to show your family, country and the world that you can make a difference. Vote!
Bill Gerlach, Allentown USA
As an archaeologist with my primary focus in the Middle East and as an American who was in the Middle East on 9/11, I am well aware of the thousands of years of conflict in this part of the world and how hatred and division still poison the lives of all the people there. It is a horrible thing to live your life in fear. That is why I hope that as many Iraqi people as possible vote regardless of their personal or religious beliefs concerning the election. The more successful the election seems to the Bush regime, the sooner the Americans will leave.
Amanda Harrison, Savannah, USA
Thank you to the brave people, especially Iraqi, who are willing to share their experiences with us. Without their full effort, the coalition will fail. I encourage them to hook into the massive internet revolution that is sweeping Iraq, indeed the entire Middle East. There are hundreds of daily posts from Iraqis on the web and they are as varied in politics and experience as can be. What is amazing though, is that the majority love their country and believe deeply in democracy.
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
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