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Elections watched closely

The world watched Sunday as Iraqi citizens cast their first vote in decades. Despite limited violence, the Iraqi people “have demonstrated the kind of courage that is the basis of self-government,” said President George W. Bush during a press conference Sunday afternoon.

While insurgents fought to keep the election process from occurring, with several acts of violence occurring nationwide, the Iraqi people — both in Iraq and the world over — voted in large numbers.

Susan MacManus, USF political science professor, said this election is a starting point for Iraq, paving the way for a democratic future.

“There are some politicians that think the voter turnout will be higher in Iraq than in the U.S. presidential election in November,” MacManus said.

Polls were established in 14 countries for Iraqi expatriates, presenting every Iraqi with the opportunity to participate in the election. In the United States, there were five polling centers around the nation, including locations in Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“America (was) watching it very closely,” MacManus said.

Major Kathleen Porter, executive officer of Army ROTC at USF, said she was very enthusiastic about the vote.

“(Iraqis) do want democracy,” Porter said. “They’re driving 200, 300, 400 miles away, first to register, secondly to vote. They will go to the end of the world to get their vote counted for the very first time.”

Not every spectator is as optimistic of the process.

John Duddy, of the College Democrats, said he believes that the election should not have been America’s primary concern.

“We need democracy at home before we can ever expect it elsewhere,” Duddy said via e-mail. Duddy added that he emphasizes that, as “we see in our own elections, (voter) registration” does not always predict voter turnout.

Insurgents tried to keep the registered population from voting in Iraq. Nine suicide bombers and several mortar strikes accounted for 44 deaths Sunday, but that didn’t keep millions more from exercising their newfound rights.

“There obviously (was) a fear of danger and terrorism to keep people from voting,” MacManus said.

Iraqi men and women were seen proudly displaying purple thumbs that they acquired during the voting process. An Associated Press reporter described the attitudes of those who participated in the election as proud and optimistic, claiming that Iraqis displayed their thumbs with honor.

The question remains of what this election means for U.S. troops. President Bush said the new Iraqi government might want U.S. soldiers to stay in Iraq to assist the democracy.

“(American forces) will continue training Iraqi security forces so Iraq can take responsibility for their own security,” he said.

“I think we’re making fantastic strides,” Porter said.

Porter said this election sets a precedent for further democratic engagements. This fall, a parliament will be established and other steps toward a strong democracy will be taken.

“I hope everyone finally sees that this is indeed what our men and women are fighting for in our armed services,” Porter said.