Enthusiasm - and wariness - as Basra prepares to vote

Basra's mobile phones have been buzzing incessantly for the past few weeks as candidates implore the local population by text message to vote in tomorrow's election.

Today the printing presses that have been churning out leaflets finally fell quiet, their wares now mingling with the sewage that still fills too many of the city's streets.

Across Iraq's second largest city, the British main area of operations for almost six years, pick-up trucks have been circling with loud speakers. Posters of portly men in suits stare down at the locals, a visible difference from the host of severe looking clerics that once dominated the walls.

The enthusiasm of a youthful democracy is palpable as Basrawis face a dizzying array of 1,272 candidates competing for just 35 seats. People lining up at the pomegranate smoothie stalls or perambulating down the riverside corniche have been holding lively, passionate discussions as they prepare to vote.

Queues are expected to be slow going at the cities 3,360 polling stations where the voters will first be faced with a list of the 82 parties before having to consult a booklet of candidates to make their final choice.

Among them is Salah Al-Rekhayis, of the Movement of Free Iraqis, who is bidding to become the first member of the, often overlooked, black community to be voted into power. Mr Al-Rekhayis, from Az Zubayr, a town south west of Basra, insisted that it was the US President Barack Obama who inspired him to run.

While security has improved beyond recognition since Operation Charge of the Knights last March, when Iraqi security forces backed by the Americans and Brits drove the insurgents out of the city, the locals have many issues to challenge their elected representatives about. Why, in such a naturally wealthy country, are they still subjected to problems with sewage, unemployment, electricity and water, they want to know.

But the glee with which the city's 1,340,000 registered voters have welcomed their first opportunity to stand in judgement of the four-year-old provincial government has been tempered by a fear that the violence will return. On Thursday a driver for the sewage department was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra, the third in January. Two Iraqi border police died in earlier attacks.

While the number of incidents are radically down from the days when the militias dominated the city, it is still treble the explosions felt in December and the local security forces have been wary of any outbreaks of intimidation during the election.

All leave has been cancelled for the 28,000 Iraqi police and soldiers who have flooded the city in the lead up to the voting, attempting to convince the population that it is safe to take part. A hotline has encouraged locals to tip the security services off to any militia activity.

The 4,100 British service personnel in the area, who have assisted in planning and mentoring, will be nowhere in evidence tomorrow, deliberately disappearing in favour of their Iraqi counterparts.

However, they will remain alert, ready to provide a quick reaction force or casualty evacuation if the situation explodes.

"We will all be ready if something goes wrong and General Mohammed's troops can not cope but they will cope," said Lieutenant Colonel Dickie Winchester, spokesman for the British forces.

Observers from the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission as well as the Arab League, Turkey, the US and Britain have been monitoring the election.

But the British remain wary of what will happen when the results are announced around 2 February before a two-week challenge period.

Lt Col Winchester explained: "There are no indications that there will be significant violence. The Iraqi Security Forces remain on alert, and are prepared to counter violence, should it break out once the results are issued, in a ‘bad loser' scenario. That said, all major parties – including Muqtada al-Sadr's party – have called on people to vote in large numbers. Noone is boycotting the election and nobody has said anything about violence."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin