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Baghdad Election Party: How Some Iraqis Saw It
Revelry, debate, and our own little election
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/05/2008 12:26 PM ET
Photos: Daniel W. Smith

BAGHDAD – In a lot of ways, it probably wasn’t much different from many election parties in America. People ate, drank and discussed politics while election-themed TV news blared. Topics ranged from the economy to race. As the vodka/pomegranate drinks and Iraqi-made Arak flowed, the discussions, though always friendly, were heated at times.

It did begin a little differently than an election party in the states. Six of us, mostly thirty-somethings, had been invited to watch the election at a friend’s house in the Green Zone, but we got to the checkpoint at the stroke of 9:00 PM, just as the pedestrian entrance closed. We decided to go the home of one of the guys, which doubles as an Art Gallery overlooking the Tigris.

I was the one foreigner, and among the Iraqis, were television and radio news correspondents, a political analyst, and a lawyer. As we approached the house, my companions talked spiritedly about the election, and jokingly sang a tune often used during Iraqi elections, only with a few foreign names inserted. I translates something like “McCain, you can not wish to win, Obama is winning.”

We sat down, and some simple food was laid out. Some more people showed up. Al-Arabia TV news was turned on, and the election was all they were talking about. Several channels from several countries were flipped past, and it was all any of them were talking about. “Who is going to win will not just be president of the U.S., they will be like the president of the world, one of my friends said. “Everything they do will affect all the countries of the world.”

There were two vocal supporters of Senator McCain, and the rest spoke favorably of Senator Obama, or at least were interested in talking about him. It seemed that, if the election were to be held there and then, that Obama was a sure thing. One of the McCain enthusiasts and I spoke at length, and as is often the case when abroad, I was struck by the impressive amount of awareness of my government. He brought up subtle things about both candidates' pasts, the Bradley Effect, all manor of topics that would make someone a hit at a DC cocktail party. Many there, boo-ed him and each side sang the Iraqi election songs over the other, with their own choices as the victor. (to hear, click 11_4_Election_Party_Singing.mp3)

As more food arrived, I asked which candidate everyone would vote for, and we decided to have a small election. It wasn’t really a cross-section of the country as a whole, but few parties here are. Of the eleven people who were there, (not counting me – I was disqualified from voting for not being Iraqi) the votes were cast as follows.

McCain: Seven
Obama: Four

From the way in which everyone had been speaking, this really surprised me. One of my friends (who had lived in America, had his citizenship, and had in fact voted through the embassy) said, “I like Obama, but I voted for McCain. Maybe Obama is better for American internal issues. For foreign policy, I have to think of Iraq. I do not know what he will do, but I understand McCain.”

Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

There are still an average of four bombings a day in Baghdad, but it’s better than it has been in a long time. Everybody knows how bad it can get here.

Though I am an American, who occupies the White House is really of more consequence to my Iraqi friends than it is to me. Bad decisions by a U.S. president may cause me to complain, or maybe even lose a job. When it comes down to it, though, I’m insulated from the effects of most presidential blunders. Here, however, a single wrong step through the Oval Office could cause my Iraqi friends’ families to be killed.

Even for those at the party who were emotionally connected to the Obama campaign and his promises for change, not rocking the boat took precedence. For those who have experienced even a fraction of what Baghdad residents have, change can be a frightening thing.


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