Reporter's Notebook: Following in Iraqi Footsteps

Dana Lewis

Sadoun means "happiness" in Arabic. It is also the name of one of the busiest streets in the heart of Baghdad.

On Election Day, Sadoun Street (search) was full of happy kids playing soccer.

There wasn't anything else Iraqis could do there, because the street was blocked off with concrete barriers so that bombers would have one less route to deliver their weapons of terror to polling stations.

FOX News employees from the Baghdad bureau originally planned to use Sadoun Street to get to voting centers and report on Iraq's historic election, but we hit a few snags.

Iraqi police reportedly fired a few shots at one TV crew trying to drive around a barrier, despite assurances from coalition forces that they would be allowed to pass.

Plus, we were deeply worried that because of the ban on civilian traffic — except for the media — if the hair-trigger, ultra-nervous security forces didn't shoot us, Iraqi insurgents would.

As our security advisor told us, we were "too damn conspicuous."

I would never have dreamed of doing it on any other day in Baghdad, but on this day, we decided we would walk.

We walked through the center of Baghdad to a polling station, just as the Iraqis were doing.

So for five blocks, we — along with nervous Iraqi voters — shifted our eyes from windows to rooftops to strangers on the street.

We nervously made our way past barbed wire and concrete barriers, past Iraqi checkpoints where we were patted down for weapons and explosives, past nearly empty streets and closed shops, to a school being used as a polling station.

I can't say the people inside were overjoyed to see our camera. After all, terrorists had gone through this neighborhood a few days before the election, promising that anyone who voted or any election worker would be put on a hit list to be killed later.

But as more Iraqis came in to vote, there was more courage in the school.

Suddenly people who had nervously filled out ballots and voted with hands literally shaking steadied up and started smiling.

Hansi, a young man who didn't want to give us his family name, agreed to be on camera.

"Look, Iraq is about to change, it’s about to get better," he said. "As of this moment, it is already better, because the terrorists lost today."

I talked to a policeman who said he was voting for his friends and colleagues who had been murdered trying to bring security to Iraq. He told me Iraqis wouldn't stop fighting for better days.

I saw a partially blind, elderly woman who had to be carried on a donkey cart to and from the polling station.

It wasn't just a few people who had the courage to leave their homes and vote, but at least 55 percent of those on the registration list at this school turned up.

It wasn't because they thought it was safe. That morning, windows rattled with the sounds of bombs going off in another area of Baghdad, and there was heavy gunfire just blocks away.

An election worker said, "Last night, I thought I would stay home today and not risk my life. But, you know, this morning I had to come. We have to have some hope for a new Iraq, and now look at how happy people are here."

I spent an hour at the school. I watched men and women — Sunnis (search) and Shiites (search) and Christians — look down long lists of political parties and mark their ballots and then their fingers with blue ink to indicate they had voted.

A lot of them held up their blue-stained index fingers as a sign of having accomplished something special.

There will be more terror and more disappointment for Iraqis, but walking in the footsteps of voters here, I really feel something changed on Election Day.

Somehow, people left their homes and took back their neighborhoods. It reminded me of how Afghans flocked to vote in elections in September, or how Ukrainians took to the streets and won back the election almost stolen from them in November.

Every once in a while, hope prevails over fear. On Election Day in Iraq, I'll remember walking back across Sadoun Street as the polls were about to close and seeing those smiling happy kids, thinking how wonderful it would be if this were the day the terrorists really lost and the people won back Iraq.