On Sunday morning, election day in Iraq, I was awakened by a text message from a colleague telling me to get to a safe spot. Turns out I had slept through the first of dozens of bombs that would occur on election day in Iraq.
From 6:45 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., more than 100 bombs exploded throughout Baghdad. That’s roughly one explosion every two minutes.
My colleague and I spent the morning huddled in a corridor away from any glass that could shatter during the blasts. We sipped coffee, worked on our computers and listened to the news as foul-smelling air drifted through the windows.
We had long anticipated that election day would be volatile, but we certainly didn’t expect such a volley of bombings. It was discouraging. We knew that our Iraqi colleagues were going to the polls, and we were worried about them. We were equally worried that no one would go to the polls, preferring to stay home and avoid the risk of being harmed or killed.
Indeed, 38 people died in Baghdad that day.
But around mid-day, something changed. The explosions tapered off, and newscasts began reporting an uptick at the polling stations. Our neighbor, an elderly woman with whom we share a house, walked out of the gate with her two daughters to go vote — even though she had told me earlier that she was too afraid to go.
More reports came in of steady turnouts and photos started appearing of proud Iraqis leaving the polls with their stained index fingers, waving defiantly. It’s now being reported that the turnout rate reached 68 percent.
By that evening, there was a palpable sense of accomplishment throughout Baghdad. It was clear that despite the efforts of some to ruin these elections, the Iraqis had simply overcome. In my career, I’ve never seen such courage from so many.
That evening there were two more bombs close to the Mercy Corps office, but I hardly noticed them over the celebratory gunfire ringing throughout the city.