‘We have an American occupation and an Iranian administration’

Anthony Shadid reports from Falluja on the Iraqi elections:

In this town, nicknamed the City of Mosques, the scratchy loudspeakers of muezzins that once preached resistance to the American occupation implored Sunni Arabs to defy bombs and vote Sunday. They did, in a landmark election that demonstrated how far Iraq has come and perhaps how far it has to go.

The droves of Sunni Arab residents casting ballots in towns like Falluja, the name itself an indelible symbol of America’s entanglement here, promised to redraw Iraq’s political landscape. The turnout delivered Sunnis their most articulated voice yet on the national stage, seven years after the American-led invasion ended their dominance.

Yet the very act of their empowerment on Sunday may make that landscape even more combustible. Voters here faced an unprecedented diversity of choices, even within coalitions, that could fragment their representation. Their demands, from securing the presidency for a Sunni to diluting Iran’s influence, could make the already formidable task of forming a coalition government even more difficult.

At polling stations near cratered buildings, past blast walls that still bore the pockmarks of bullets, the sentiments of voters who largely boycotted Iraq’s national elections in 2005 illustrated that divide. Even as many cast ballots for the slate of Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former prime minister, they condemned religious Shiite parties. With the invective once reserved for Americans, voters now attacked Iran, seen here as the patron of Iraq’s Shiite-led government.

“There’s no more war, it’s true, but we’re still not free,” Riyadh Khalaf, 47, a laborer, said as he stood near a polling station in the neighborhood of Andalus, where distant bombings reverberated through the morning. “We have an American occupation and an Iranian administration.”

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