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Iraqis don't hesitate to express views on vote

Campaign posters and banners are plastered all over the walls of  Baghdad as Iraqis brace for national elections on Thursday.  NBC News Babak Behnam reports on the talk on the street.
An Iraqi man distributes election pamphlets for the Shiite list United Iraqi Alliance showing Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday.
An Iraqi man distributes election pamphlets for the Shiite list United Iraqi Alliance showing Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday.Mohammed Hato / AP
/ Source: NBC News

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Along Salhia Street, a middle-class neighborhood in Baghdad, campaign posters and banners are plastered all over the walls.

Residents are greeted everywhere by campaigners with leaflets. They are handed pamphlets from one or another of the more than 200 groups that represent over 7,000 plus candidates vying for 275 seats in the new Iraqi parliament.

Slogans scream off the pages, "We have clean hands,” "Hope for Iraq," and “We liberated Iraq, now we will rebuild it.”

The results of Thursday's national election in Iraq are yet to be seen, but at least one thing is for certain: differing opinions on what's best for the future of Iraq abound, and are being loudly and freely expressed.

These elections are a far cry from the last presidential election in the Iraq in which the ballot had just one name on it: Saddam Hussein.

He ran away with over 99 percent of the vote.

‘We need a successful election’
Standing with his friends next to a row of stores, Mushtaq,who asked that his last name not be used to protect his identity, took a drag from his cigarette. A 24-year-old student, he looked up and said, "We need a successful election because that way the Americans can see we can govern ourselves and hopefully they will leave."

But Mushtaq and his friends are tired of the daily violence, the lack of security, and governments that haven't made any difference.

"We have given two leaders the chance to make our lives better and they failed,” said Mushtaq, referring to Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister who was the first person to hold the title after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister.

“Now people here are looking toward the Sunni leadership and want to give them the same chance,” Mushtaq said, as his friends all nodded in agreement.

Sunnis are expected to vote in larger numbers this time around. In the first parliamentary election last January, Sunnis boycotted the vote, leaving them under-represented in parliament and disenchanted with the political process.

Flip side - longing for the good old days
Less than two miles away from Salhia Stree, sitting on a bench outside a middle school, Mohammed Ali was patiently waiting for his daughter to come out.

“Who are these people?” he asked, referring to the candidates. “Most of them are imported… they were in exile when we were suffering from wars and sanctions.”

He served in the Iraqi military, fighting in the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, and defending southern Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

Dismissed from his military post by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the invasion, Mohammed Ali has not been able to find work. He uses his own car as a part-time cab to make ends meet.

“We need a strong leader to control the country and return stability to the Iraqi people,” he said.

One more chance
A further difference of opinion could be seen at the Baghdad Classic Gym which caters to young bodybuilders. Located on the second floor in a main building on Karrada Street, it is jammed during most afternoons.

After finishing his rotation of bench presses, Said, who also asked that his full name not be used in order to protect his identity, declared, “I am hopeful the 555 (The Iraqi Coalition List) slate will win the elections.”

In many ways, Said represents the future of Iraq. At 26 years of age he and his generation are expected to lead Iraq after more than 30 years of dictatorship -- but they are impatient.

“My friends and I are going to give the new government some time to prove that they can make significant changes. If they don’t provide us with results, we are leaving our country forever!” Said said.