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Twist in Iraq's democracy: anti-American party pushes electoral reform

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A closed list would likely favor incumbent politicians expected to lose support at the polls for failing to deliver essential services and cut down on corruption. Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, recently issued a rare public pronouncement urging an open list for the next elections. And Sadr, who has been pursuing his religious education in Iran, has issued a decree directing followers not to participate in a closed list, some of his supporters said.

"If parliament does not pass an open list, we will not vote," says retired government worker Ali al-Lami, one of hundreds of men who had rolled out prayer rugs for Friday prayers on closed streets and sidewalks in Sadr City, Baghdad's biggest and poorest neighborhood. Some of the men brought umbrellas to shield them from the sun. Others wandered through the crowd spraying the worshippers with a cooling mist of rose-scented water.

Iron fences surrounding newly planted grass gleamed with fresh purple paint, but piles of garbage choked the streets. Electricity here is cut off for hours each day, and almost half the population has no jobs – a concern voters wanted candidates to address.

"The most important thing is for them to provide jobs," says Atheer Mohammad Hashim, a laborer who dropped out of school in the second grade when his cousin was executed, his father imprisoned, and their food ration card revoked under Saddam Hussein. He voted for an official in his neighborhood.

15-year-olds can vote

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