The Shiites of Najaf went to the polls Sunday with decades of grief, with memories of fathers wrenched from homes, with scars left from torture, with names of loved ones dumped in mass graves. And they put it all in the ballot box.
"Today was the triumph over 35 years of suppression," said an elections official, Nadeen Abdul Raheem. He watched in satisfaction as poll workers sitting on blankets in a schoolroom floor counted ballots by kerosene lantern. "This is a new experience."
Election Day in Iraq was an occasion of fear for many, violence for some. But in Najaf, it was a time of rejoicing.
Shiite Muslims, who make up an estimated 60 percent of the population, have been kept under the thumb of rulers from the Sunni minority for most of the last century. When President Saddam Hussein was in power, Shiites were impoverished and imprisoned. He herded Shiites into minefields during Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s. He executed Shiites he distrusted, and sent the bill for the bullets to the family of each victim.
For many Shiites, the election Sunday was their victory over the dictator.