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 fifth instalment, we hear about the joyful return of pilgrims from Mecca, fear and suspicion in northern Iraq and a man who'll be leaving it late to decide whether to vote.
You can bookmark this page and come back to read the latest posts each day.
NO-ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT TIME THE CURFEW STARTS
Posted by Youssef Iraqi doctor, Basra, 28 January
I don't think you really have free elections in Iraq at present. I fear that a lot of people are not going to participate. There is a lot of pressure and it also depends which part of Iraq you are in. The north is very different to the south, where I am, and also I don't really think it's going to be a democratic process. Some people will vote, but it's not really a democracy as those in the West would see it.
I am probably not going to vote, but I am not sure. I may give it a chance. I will wait until noon on Sunday and see what the security situation is. It's not because I don't want to, I am just really afraid for my life. There are crazy people around and it would be fine if someone could assure me of my safety - but they can't.
Basra at present is quite calm. There are few people on the streets which is unusual because normally everyone is rushing to get things done. I think it is because they will soon impose the curfew. The funny thing is, I asked the police about the curfew and they don't know when it is! People say 6pm or 8pm or even 10pm, while in the newspapers it's from 6 and 7pm. Even the officials I asked gave me different times. They haven't received any definitive time.
There's not a lot of traffic, today the streets are quite deserted. On Friday most people try to finish their business of the week, they go to the market, visit their friends or go to doctor. People on the outskirts of the city have difficulty coming on other days because the rest of the week they work in the mornings and in the evening it's dangerous. Today we saw much fewer patients at the clinic. All the health centres and hospitals are on alert and well-quipped for anything that might happen over the election period. We're all on call for the next 72 hours.
I am worried something may happen. It is strange here in southern Iraq. You get a fortnight of calm then suddenly in one or two days we get one or two suicide bombings. Basra has been much quieter, no real bombings apart from a few weeks ago. This is because of the social situation in Basra. The community is very different from the rest of Iraq. The way the British operate in Basra is much less intimidating to Iraqis. They're less aggressive, they go about in small groups, they don't go out in full battle uniform. In Baghdad it's very different, scarier for everyone.
Most educated Iraqis I know have two feelings about the election. Most want Allawi to win because he is the person with the least allegiance to any extremist group. He would work for Iraq as a whole and do it much better than anyone else. Also it is not just us who wants him to win. We think the major world powers want him instead of any extremists and I think they have made efforts to encourage Iraqis to vote for him.
We need a strong person as a politician. The problem is what we want out of the election. What I want, and what others want in the post-election era is a government which would impose law on everyone without exception. At the moment we feel there is no law. We want a just law where anyone who crosses the line will be punished. In a decade we could do this.
In Basra things are better now. We used to only have power for three to four hours a day. Now it's six to eight hours. Getting tap water - if you can call it water - is not easy. I personally went for four days without getting water. This is not an uncommon occurrence. It's a fact of life. Many districts have had no water for several days. Try looking after three children with no water! Strangely, in downtown Basra it's OK because the system put in place last time the British were here is still working.
What makes it worse is lack of security, you are not sure if anyone will mug you or beat you when you go out and most people go around armed. I don't. I think if you carry a gun you attract trouble. It's not safe to go out late at night after 9.30 or 10pm. If you are in the suburbs you shouldn't go out later than 9.30pm, depending on the availability of public lighting. Sometimes, in evenings, it feels like a prison.
TRYING NOT TO THINK ABOUT THE BIG ISSUES
Posted by Elma American contractor, near Mosul, 28 January
My life here is really pretty dull. We work a lot of hours - an average of 84 a week - and that doesn't leave much time for anything else. Sure, there have been times when it has been very exciting here. The second week I was in Mosul I was in the middle of a gun battle that raged for three hours. There are also the more or less constant mortar attacks and rockets, but I have grown accustomed to that. Like everything else here, the incoming is just part of the normal routine.
We are not allowed to drink, which is probably a good thing, so the only diversions available are books, DVDs, and exercise. Want to lose weight? Come to Iraq! We have Iraqis working with us and a lot of Turkish nationals as well. There are a few Filipinos, but since their government has blocked them from working here, when they go home they cannot come back.
All these people do menial work for us, things like laundry, rubbish removal, manual labour - nothing skilled or professional. I feel badly for them - I know they are paid very little and we, the Americans, are making an obscene amount of money. Everyone is pleasant though and relations are pretty good. Communication is difficult, but we all seem to get by, one way or another.
Now, having said that, I must admit I do not trust the Iraqis. I was not in the dining facility in Mosul before Christmas when the suicide bomber blew himself up killing 20 or so Americans, but I had eaten in there on several occasions. Apparently the man who did it was wearing an Iraqi National Guard uniform; I have never trusted those guys.
When I see them in their Toyota trucks with the weapons dangling out of the windows and back, I get behind blast walls. I just don't trust them, never did, and the bombing of that facility - in which one very good friend of mine was killed - deepened my distrust. It's sad - those guys are getting killed at an amazing pace simply for wanting their country improved.
Maybe I'll get over my distrust, I don't know... but I avoid those guys. Iraqis now are dying by the truckload, and these soldiers of ours - kids, just children - aren't faring much better. As I mentioned in my previous entry, my perspective is different now. I don't think too much about the greater issues. My concern is staying alive.
JOYFUL TIME AS HAJJIS RETURN
Posted by Tariq Iraqi student, Hit, 28 January
Last night we stayed again at my relative's home. There are many of us there now - five families and 25 children in all! There was a lot of noise in the night, vehicles moving and some gunshots. I went back home to our home in Hit but there had been some gunfire between the Americans and the insurgents this morning. The US troops were battling the gunmen for a while and they occupied a few houses just down the street from where we live. I had tried to get back to my home but because of the shooting I turned back.
It's also busy here because many people are returning from the Hajj. Traffic was terrible. You could hear people honking their horns in celebration and some shooting. My friend had two relatives who went on the Hajj so he visited them. It is a very happy occasion for us here. You can hear the noise of cars and shouting in celebration for miles. You go to the house of a friend who has come back and you get money and sweets, everyone from all over Hit comes to shake the new Hajji's hand. Of course, with the election all this visiting is a problem.
Today at prayers we talked a little about the election. They actually established a polling station here on the outskirts of town a few days ago. I expect no-one will go there, there is certainly no-one working there, no observers... it's too dangerous. Hopefully it will stay calm here, I will make sure the children are safe today and tomorrow. With 25 of them, they will hopefully just keep busy playing football!
These are some of the comments we have received so far about this log.
Some of the comments refer to previous logs:
For children of Iraqi exiles, the most important events in our lives took place before we were even born. Today, on the first day of out-of-country voting, this is no longer true. As an Iraqi-American born and raised in the US, I plan to vote in the OCV program today. I have never been to Iraq, but both my parents are Iraqi and it has always been the basis of my identity. I am proud to vote and be a part of the future or Iraq. I have tremendous admiration for the election log contributors who are brave enough to risk their lives to fight a state of perpetual inconsequence.
Babylonia Marcus, Washington, DC, USA
It's time for the rest of the world to get behind this project to get Iraq back on its feet. Regardless of past disagreement on the war - what alternative is there?; I think its a shame that much of the passion on the issue of Iraq is spent on 'disagreeing' with America and arguing about the questionable justification of the war and not on unequivocally condemning the atrocities being committed by the insurgents.
Olawande Kasumu, Lagos, Nigeria
To Ian Stephenson: You said North American, that would include you, since you are from Canada. Blissful is not what most people have in mind when it comes to Iraq. The fact that they are able to vote is somewhat of a miracle all by itself, isn't it? Whether it is in the middle of the "War Zone" (as you put it) or not. How many of these people are thankful they can vote at all? How many died for one person to vote? If you had been bound up for 50 years and suddenly freedom was at your door, wouldn't you pay the price, no matter what the cost?
Tez, St Louis, MO US
I'd like to answer Ian who posted earlier. Voting in the middle of a war zone is like going out in the morning to college or work place and facing the prospect of a suicide bomber in the way (frightening but has to be done. As someone said on this site, voting is voting against violence, not particularly for a certain party or group of persons, but against intimidations by certain people. I'm no idealist and I sure hope to survive this period and its aftermath, but I do know that by voting I would tell those certain people that I don't like their way of thinking and that they don't speak for the rest of the Sunnis(which I am one of.
Mays, Baghdad, Iraq
Just want to say to all Iraqis out there who may be reading this - good luck for this weekend! I hope that, despite the probable violence in some areas, the election progresses Iraq and you all go a little further down the road to peace, stability and a good life. The "north American ideals" a Canadian contributor derided on this page, are not just north American but global desires for peace, justice and a good life for all our families, friends and neighbours. That's something worth voting for!
Rachelle, London, UK
The elections will not be a magic bullet to fix all the problems in Iraq, but it is a start whether they are dodging bullets and bombers or not. To hear Iraqi nationals who live outside the 'death triangle' describe how they feel about the vote is optimistic, blissful, and hopeful. The troublemakers are angry that they are losing their control, so they create havoc and murder as a form of social control through fear. I seriously doubt the elections will be legitimate since so many are being used as pawns in the game of fear, but in the long run I have faith in the Iraqi people to show the rest of the Middle East how good it can be to have that rare freedom of a constitution protecting their basic human rights.
Stephanie Hataway, Texas, USA
It is my hope that the Iraqi people will find the courage to make their voice heard in the upcoming elections, as many of our countrymen (and my neighbours) have died to give them a voice. Many more will probably die protecting them on their way to the polls. Regardless of what you believe about America's government or empire goals (although I've been searching for the empire ever since I first heard about it), please never doubt the heart of its people. Our families and citizens do not send themselves, their children, their siblings, their parents, their friends to die in a war so that we can either rule the world or purchase our gasoline cheaper. There is something else, something that we believe is worth dying and fighting for.
Carol, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Rana Imad says that she and her family were threatened by certain people. Presumably she knows their names and where they live. If everyone informed on these people, they could not operate. I know this is not necessarily practical at the moment, but I recall the people of Northern Ireland who eventually tired of the extremists in their midst and, by co-operating with the authorities, forced them to stop.
Andrew Morton, Bolton, UK
As a soldier in the Territorial Army (reserves) who has done his turn in Iraq I am offended by the media concentration on what is bad about Iraq and the current situation. It seems to me that journalists seek out "exciting" stories about car bombs and firefights because they "make better TV" or "headlines". It would be very refreshing to see an article in the papers which showed the work carried out by the British army in rebuilding Iraq. There are sappers building bridges, installing generators in schools, water treatment plants, the power grid and many other civil engineering tasks. All of this goes unremarked and generally unknown by the public who are fed a daily diet of explosions and horror from a small area of the country.
Marcus, Medway England
As an ex-South African, the people of Iraq are close to my heart at this time. South Africa went through tremendous changes and I clearly recall the fear amongst the people in the days before the first democratic election. People stocked up on food, planned emergency procedures and escape routes. I remember the feeling of insecurity - increased acts of bombings and terror led up to the big day. We all believed there was a real chance of civil war. The big day arrived at red dawn and never was there more anxiety amongst a nation as then. But the day passed without much ado. I wish you the strength of character, value of understanding and wisdom of age to take this process in your stride, and to be whoever you are, regardless of what you are in.
Tania Solomons, Crawley ,West Sussex
What a refreshing look at life through the eyes of Iraqi people. I spent 17 months working in Iraq, mostly Baghdad, from June 2003 until November, the only reason I'm not still there is that I was blown up by a suicide bomber and am still on crutches with a broken leg and ribs and burns. I argue with "non-believers" or anti-war demonstrators whenever I am in position to and tell them of the chance for a better future. I hope to return in a few months when my strength/fitness improves and carry on the vital work of rebuilding the country, so one day we can look back and know we were right. Take care all my Iraqi friends.
Pete, London ,England
My daughter is married to a Kurdish-American who is in Iraq as an interpreter/translator. Both of them are voting this Sunday, he in the north of Iraq, she in Nashville, one of the hubs where Iraqi-Americans can vote. She as a spouse can vote and has registered to do so. While it is encouraging to see the excitement of the Iraqi-Americans and Kurdish-Americans coming from all over America to one of the five cities designated as hubs to vote this Sunday, it is our hope that the Iraqi people living in the country will find the strength and courage to do so also, despite their fears.
Trish Lewis, Fargo, North Dakota, USA
This message is to Timsa in UK. In the Kurdish area, it is more peaceful and they do not have as much problems. There are suffering Iraqis and more people need to know about this. There is no time as the elections are coming up. Kurdish areas are nice places. We people in Baghdad and other places are suffering.
Abu Ali, Baghdad, Iraq
First, I'd like to thank you for your efforts to enlighten those of us who are so far removed from the emotional effects of the war on those who must live through them. These logs provide a rare opportunity to empathize with both the Iraqis and the foreigners occupying the nation as facilitators of democracy. But although I find the reflections in the logs sincere and forthright, I do want to point out that to portray these people as ordinary is somewhat disingenuous. Based upon the biographical data of the Iraqi log contributors, they appear to represent the minority of the Iraqi people - the 40% who are literate. Less than 0.2% of Iraqis are internet users (based upon The World Factbook). It is the remaining majority that I'd also like to hear from as well. I hope that future logs will provide a more objective viewpoint of pre-election life in post-Saddam Iraq through the eyes of more ordinary Iraqis. With only a fragment of the story, we gain only a fragment of the truth.
Julia Guthrie, California, USA
So many North American blissful ideals and comments on this page... I wonder what it's like voting in an election in the middle of a War Zone?
Ian Stephenson, Toronto, Canada
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