Iraq is holding parliamentary elections in spite of horrific violence

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Marco Werman: In Iraq, voters go to the polls tomorrow. This will be the first nationwide election there since US forces left the country there in 2011. But it's not necessarily something to celebrate. The vote will happen in the midst of a horrific wave of violence. Just today, 17 people were killed a bombing at an outdoor market in Baghdad. Pull further back and the overall numbers are staggering. Last year, according to the United Nations, nearly 8,000 Iraqi civilians died in violence. What does that mean to people in Iraq? BBC correspondent Kevin Connolly also wanted to find out, so recently he decided to ask every politician or pundit he spoke with how many people they knew personally who have been killed. "Probably several hundred, unfortunately." "Around like 15, between friends and family." "There are daily victims and daily injured patients and daily dead people in Iraq." "I've lost three of my family members. My dad, my brother and my sister." "They are not here anymore. They are dead. They are dead." Werman: Kevin Connolly joins us now from Baghdad. So Kevin, all those people were people that you spoke to in Iraq, right? Kevin Connolly: That's right, they're people we came across, entirely chosen at random and I suspect that you could have gotten very similar answers from almost any other group of Iraqi people you met and you feel like wherever you turned there are blighted lives here and whenever you reach out to explain, another statistical way of looking at it crops up. You gave today's figure there; since we arrived on this reporting trip last week, we think more than 160 people have died violently across Iraq, 275 have been injured. Werman: It really is staggering and this is supposed to be a peaceful post-war Iraq. I'm curious, how does the current situation compare with the worst of times when there was an actual ground war in Iraq? Connolly: It's very difficult to give those kind of comparatives because of course those sorts of figures, the Iraqis killed in American and British air raids for example, they were never really computed and given in an undisputed way as an established fact. The other thing which is very, very hard to express statistically is just a general atmosphere of uncertainty here. Some of the people we've been talking to, we went to speak to a political pundit we sometimes use here last week, the previous week six of his friends had died when their favorite coffee shop blew up. Just around a corner from there, an ice cream parlor blew up and 18 people were killed, so what the Sunni insurgents behind the attacks are doing is in effect consciously attacking the sense of security we need to go about our daily lives. So you have an extraordinary kind of edgy, fearful atmosphere here and that's something that faces Iraqis every time they go to the market or wait at a bus stop and that eats away at people's sense of well being, sense of comfort, sense of happiness. In a way, it's not just the figures, it's this kind of national psychosis they're inducing. Werman: If today's bombing at that market in Baghdad is about intimidation with the vote coming up tomorrow, do you think it will prevent people from voting. One of the provinces in Iraq, Anbar province, fighting of great intensity is going on there and in some of the cities of Anbar province, like Fallujah, which of course many Americans will remember from their own headlines, the election simply won't be held. It can't be held there. So to that extent, the insurgents have already succeeded. They will also of course be trying to intimidate who will have to queue up to vote here because of the inefficiency of the Iraqi electoral machine, so when you go out to vote and you have to wait outside, you know the number of polling stations have already been the targets of suicide bombings. So if there is a substantial turnout here, it will be a remarkable testament to the stoicism of the Iraqi people. Werman: Won't voters tomorrow, say in Baghdad, where the vote will be happening, won't they feel like their civic duty is kind of futile if these other provinces have already been intimidated out of this national process? Connolly: I think lots of people do feel a sense of civic duty to vote and of course we shouldn't forget the authorities in Iraq have gone to enormous lengths to try to give people the confidence to vote. We were told yesterday, for example, that Baghdad airport that we flew into is closed. The main roads in and out of Baghdad are closed. So I would expect that the streets of Baghdad tomorrow and other Iraqi cities will be crawling with members of security forces because the government is desperate to get the validation it thinks it would get from a substantial turnout. But the first thing to look at here is not the results, which will be very complicated for outsiders to judge, the first thing to look at is that very simple figure: the turnout. Werman: The BBC's Kevin Connolly speaking with us from Baghdad. Thanks so much for your time, Kevin. Connolly: Thanks Marco.