Despite Insurgent Threats and Lack of Democratic Tradition
The Washington Post
By Karl Vick

BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 — An overwhelming majority of Iraqis continue to say they intend to vote on Jan. 30 even as insurgents press attacks aimed at rendering the elections a failure, according to a new public opinion survey.

The poll, conducted in late December and early January for the International Republican Institute, found 80 percent of respondents saying they were likely to vote, a rate that has held roughly steady for months.

The 64 percent who said they were “very likely” to vote represented a dip of about 7 percentage points from a November survey, while those “somewhat likely” to vote increased 5 points.

Western specialists involved with election preparations said they were struck by the determination and resilience of ordinary Iraqis as they anticipate their country’s first free election in half a century.

“Despite the efforts of the terrorists, Iraqis remain committed to casting their vote on election day,” IRI President Lorne Craner said in a statement. The organization, which is funded by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, commissioned the poll, which surveyed 1,900 Iraqis in all but two of the country’s 18 provinces. Poor security made two in the far north, Nineveh and Dohuk, inaccessible. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

“I think people will be shocked,” said an official of another international organization deeply involved in preparing Iraq’s nascent political class for the ballot. The official, who insisted that neither he nor his organization could be identified because of security concerns, said most Iraqis remained intent on exercising their right to elect a government after decades of dictatorships. “I think the real story of this election is what’s gone on beneath the radar,” the official said. “They may not know what they’re voting for. But I think they recognize it’s something called democracy.”

The new survey was released on a relatively quiet day in Iraq, the start of a four-day religious holiday marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Streets were largely empty, and attacks appeared to be down sharply from Wednesday, when insurgents mounted more than 100 across the country, including 10 car bombings.

In the southern city of Basra, however, an explosion at the entrance to a British military base injured several people, including British soldiers, according to a statement by the British military. A group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi posted an Internet message saying the attack was “in response to the harm inflicted by British occupation forces on our brothers in prison.”

Three British soldiers are accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners in a scandal that recalls the Abu Ghraib case, including photos of naked prisoners being forced to simulate sex.

Another guerrilla group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, asserted responsibility for an attack on two cars carrying a Western security detail near Baiji, an oil town in the north, on Wednesday. A British man and an Iraqi driver were killed in the attack, and a Brazilian man is missing. The group claimed to be holding a Briton and a Swede.

Mohammed Mutar, a laborer who said he witnessed the attack, said the attackers pretended to be waiting in a long line at a gas station before attacking the two-car convoy. Lt. Col. Safa Majoun, who heads the security detail at the Baiji power plant, said two men were kidnapped, including the head of the company that runs the plant. Nazar Jabbar, a driver, said he and the company’s other drivers immediately resigned.

In Anbar province, a vast and predominantly Sunni stretch of western Iraq that includes Fallujah and Ramadi, Zarqawi’s group this week distributed fliers warning that anyone seen in public from Jan. 27 on would be regarded as “a military target.”

Special correspondent Salih Saif Aldin in Baiji contributed to this report.

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