FALLUJA/RAMADI Iraq (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an about-face as Thursday's polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.Read it here.
In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find.
Instead, election campaign posters dominate buildings in the rebel strongholds of Ramadi and nearby Falluja, where Sunnis staged a boycott or were too scared to vote last time around.
"We want to see a nationalist government that will have a balance of interests. So our Sunni brothers will be safe when they vote," said Falluja resident Ali Mahmoud, a former army officer and rocket specialist under Saddam's Baath party.
"Sunnis should vote to make political gains. We have sent leaflets telling al Qaeda that they will face us if they attack voters."
The shift is encouraging for Washington, which hopes to draw Sunni Arabs into peaceful politics in order to defuse the insurgency.
This is, after all, the point of the whole thing..., to institute, and more importantly, to legitimize, democratic principles.