Sunday, January 30, 2005

Closing the Polls

"Step Toward Freedom" by Wes Aldridge

I wanted to cover some of the monumental Iraqi Government voting at the Tennessee Fair Grounds. My name wasn’t on the credentials list and security was tight at the designated voting location, one of five spread across the United States. I wasn’t able to gain access to the actual polling place, but I felt like I needed to be part of the media coverage for this milestone event. So, I did what every die hard journalist would do… I got creative and got a story.

I waited by the concrete-barriered exit gate, being watched closely by four armed and body armored metro Nashville police officers. I flagged down Adnan Abdulkader and his wife, Hozan Omar, as they drove from the fair grounds in their white Toyota Corolla. I held up my camera and motioned for him to drive over to me so I could talk to him. I asked him if I would do a small interview and let take a photo of him. He was more than happy to speak to me.

Abdulkader, 27, is a Kurdish-Iraqi-American that has lived in Nashville for over 14 years. He was one of the last to cast his vote at the fair grounds as polls for the Iraqi vote closed at 5 p.m. on Sunday, January 30.

“I am over excited and over joyful for me not just to cast my vote, but for being a part of this greatest moment,” he said. “It used to be the choice of one, Saddam. Now you have the choice of 111 [electorate nominees] without Saddam. It feels great.”

Abdulkader wasn’t sure what effect the voting for elected government officials would have in Iraq, but he is looking past the immediate effects and thought things would get better “maybe in the long run.”

“I have high hopes for the future [in Iraq],” he said. “No matter what my sacrifice was, I was going to come and vote today. Iraqis, especially Kurds, have suffered so much and they were persecuted over and over.”

For now, Abdulkader will stay in Nashville, where he said he owns his own home and business, a barbershop called Klean Kuts. But he hopes to return to Iraq someday when the threat of suicide bombers and militant chaos has subsided because he wants his children to “grow up in that culture and way of life.”

“Maybe I will go back if it is safer, if it has peace and harmony,” he said. “That’s where my heart is.”

As he started to leave, he held up his right index finger and showed me where his finger was inked to cast his vote… and I took the shot.