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Iraq's parliamentary vote marred by boycott, voter apathy
Iraqis have voted in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led uprising against corruption and mismanagement

BAGHDAD — Iraqis voted Sunday in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the voting was marked by widespread apathy and a boycott by many of the young activists who thronged the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces in late 2019. Tens of thousands of people took part in the mass protests and were met by security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured within just a few months.

Although authorities gave in and called the early elections, the death toll and the heavy-handed crackdown — as well as a string of targeted assassinations — prompted many who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of the vote.

Polls closed at 1500 GMT (1800 local time) following 11 hours of voting. Results are expected within the next 24 hours, according to the independent body that oversees Iraq’s election. But negotiations to choose a prime minister tasked with forming a government are expected to drag on for weeks or even months.

The election was the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that independent candidates from the protest movement stood a chance against well-entrenched parties and politicians, many of them backed by powerful armed militias.

Minutes after polls closed, fireworks organized by Baghdad’s municipality went off in the city’s landmark Tahrir Square, where demonstrators had set up tents for several months starting in October 2019. The protests fizzled out by February of the following year, due to the security crackdown and later, the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, the square stands largely empty. The country faces huge economic and security challenges, and although most Iraqis long for change, few expect it to happen as a result of the elections.

Muna Hussein, a 22-year-old cinematic makeup artist, said she boycotted the election because she did not feel there was a safe environment “with uncontrolled weapons everywhere,” a reference to the mainly Shiite militias backed by neighboring Iran.

“In my opinion, it isn’t easy to hold free and fair elections under the current circumstances,” she said.

Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, disagreed. “I don’t want these same faces and same parties to return,” he said after casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karradah district.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose chances for a second term will be determined by the results of the election, urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.

“Get out and vote, and change your future,,” said al-Kadhimi, repeating the phrase, “get out” three times after casting his ballot at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.

Under Iraq’s laws, the winner of Sunday’s vote gets to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it’s unlikely any of the competing coalitions can secure a clear majority. That will require a lengthy process involving backroom negotiations to select a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government. It took eight months of political wrangling to form a government after the 2018 elections.

Groups drawn from Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims dominate the electoral landscape, with a tight race expected between Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, which came in second in the previous election.

The Fatah Alliance is comprised of parties and affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iran Shiite militias that rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group.

It includes some of the most hard-line Iran-backed factions, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, a black-turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran, but publicly rejects its political influence.

Earlier Sunday, al-Sadr cast his ballot in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, swarmed by local journalists. He then drove away in a white sedan without commenting. Al-Sadr, a populist who has an immense following among Iraq’s working class Shiites, came out on top in the 2018 elections, winning a majority of seats.

The election is the first since the fall of Saddam to proceed without a curfew in place, reflecting the significantly improved security situation in the country following the defeat of IS in 2017.

Previous votes were marred by fighting and deadly bomb attacks that have plagued the country for decades.

More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and anti-terrorism forces fanned out and deployed outside polling stations, some of which were ringed by barbed wire. Voters were patted down and searched.

As a security precaution, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and scrambled its air force from Saturday night until early Monday morning.

In another first, Sunday’s election is taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies — another demand of the activists who took part in the 2019 protests — and allows for more independent candidates.

The 2018 elections saw just 44% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a record low, and the results were widely contested. There are concerns of a similar or even lower turnout this time.

In a tea shop in Karradah, one of the few open, candidate Reem Abdulhadi walked in to ask whether people had cast their vote.

“I will give my vote to Umm Kalthoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” the tea vendor quipped, referring to the late Egyptian singer beloved by many in the Arab world. He said he will not take part in the election and didn’t believe in the political process.

After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with her name and number in case he changed his mind. He put it in his pocket.

“Thank you, I will keep it as a souvenir,” he said.

At that moment, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead making a screeching noise. “Listen to this. This sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not an election,” he added.

Greer statue honors legacy of one of Marshall, Huntington’s greats

HUNTINGTON — Twenty-five years ago, the NBA recognized Harold Everett “Hal” Greer’s impact on the game of basketball worldwide, naming him one of the NBA’s Top 50 players.

On Saturday, Marshall University recognized Greer’s impact on the state of West Virginia with the unveiling of a statue in his honor.

The statue may portray Greer in his Marshall basketball uniform taking a shot, but his presence on the court went well beyond just the game.

In 1954, the talented Huntington native from Douglass High School enrolled at Marshall University to play basketball, thus breaking the color barrier in college sports in West Virginia.

While teammates loved Greer, breaking through societal norms of the time in terms of segregation was not easy to overcome.

Undeterred, Greer went on to become Marshall’s first African American captain and the first Black All-American at Marshall, while being the first Black college baseball player in the state as well.

For Greer’s daughter, Kelly, who was in attendance for the unveiling Saturday, her father’s greatest legacy was his determination, no matter the obstacles he faced.

“I’d say the No. 1 thing he taught us was to love what you do and persevere,” Kelly Greer said. “As long as you love what you do, just be very passionate and never give up. That’s what he did through basketball. He taught us to be resilient.

“My dad was very determined. Whatever he wanted, he would just go after it and get it.”

Marshall interim athletic director Jeff O’Malley and Marshall president Jerome Gilbert each said the honor is long overdue for Greer, who passed away in 2018.

Each was pleased to be able to showcase the tribute for Greer and cement his legacy along the streets of Huntington.

“I think it’s very important, not only for Marshall University and Huntington, but for the state of West Virginia,” O’Malley said. “You’re talking about somebody who broke the color barrier in college athletics in West Virginia. You equate that to Jackie Robinson.

“He’s not only our Jackie Robinson, but he’s West Virginia’s. This is probably long overdue, but it’s a great tribute and it’s a great centerpiece for the city and something everyone should be proud of.”

Gilbert, who hired Marshall’s first Black head coach in Charles Huff in January, said it’s also important to remember Marshall’s historical place in providing opportunities to African Americans, starting with Greer.

“It’s very important for the African American community to see that Marshall University was a spot where a Black athlete could come in the 1950s to be welcomed to some extent and then go on to do great things,” Gilbert said. “It’s a great success story that talks to people about determination.”

On Saturday morning, Huff stepped off the Marshall team bus sporting a Hal Greer jersey to signify his support of the statue that will forever sit on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 18th Street in front of Cam Henderson Center.

Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni said its placement and significance cannot be stated enough.

“I think it will remind our kids that you can have a home in Huntington, grow up in the streets of Huntington, West Virginia, live on the Marshall campus and be the best of the best,” D’Antoni said.

D’Antoni said that while Greer may have passed away in 2018, his legacy and the opportunities he built for athletes in West Virginia will live on. It is a lesson that can be seen each time someone walks into the Cam Henderson Center or drives by on 3rd Avenue.

“When they walk by and they see the beautiful statue — the guy did a great job — when they come by, it’s a constant reminder that you can reach for the sky, keep your feet on the ground and be a good person while attaining all those goals,” D’Antoni said.

The statue was sculpted by Huntington’s Frederick Hightower Sr., who added the piece to his already-impressive resume, which includes a life-sized sculpture of NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, which is featured on the campus of West Virginia State University.

While Hal Greer’s wife, Mayme, was unable to attend the ceremony due to travel issues, Kelly Greer said the statue is something her family will treasure forever to keep their father’s legacy strong.

“There are a lot of very successful athletes that don’t have a statue,” Kelly Greer said. “As a family, we are so thankful and very impressed. It’s a huge honor — beyond words, basically.”

Greer’s NBA legacy culminated after a career in which he was a 10-time NBA All-Star after starring with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers.

Greer won an NBA Championship in 1967 and had his jersey retired in 1976. Greer was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 after a career in which he scored 21,586 points and hit 8,504 field goals in a total of 1,122 games.

Boone County school system reaches agreement with feds in civil rights case

The Boone County school system has reached a resolution agreement with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights regarding a complaint that was filed against the school system.

In February, the school system began negotiations to satisfy a complaint that alleged that Boone County Schools discriminated against female student-athletes at Van Junior-Senior High School and at Scott High School regarding the provided practice, competitive and dressing-room facilities.

The individual who filed the original complaint later removed Scott High School from the case, according to school officials.

Interim Boone County schools superintendent Lisa Beck outlined the compliance plan for the board during a special session on Sept. 27. Beck said the plan has been accepted by the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

“Regarding the Van softball field — that was a four-page report that was due on Sept. 10,” she said. “This was submitted [along with photos] to the office of civil rights on Sept. 10, and — backing up — on Aug. 16, I submitted another evaluation report and I wanted to share these documents with you. The compliance report outlines how we’ll address the locker room for the softball team, a press box for the softball team and making some adjustments to the concession stand.”

Beck detailed some of the improvements that will be made by the school system.

“The home dugout will have the roof removed there and have a second story there — a wooden structure that will have a set of steps right off of the first base line,” Beck said. “Then, the locker room will see the current boys locker room and field house split down the middle. The doorway on the girls side will enter into a coaches office, which will give some privacy there, and from there you’ll leave the coaches office and go into the locker room for the ladies.”

She added, “Where the showers are now for the boys, that will become restrooms for the ladies and then we’ll move out the lawn equipment and turn that into locker room space for the boys and purchase secure storage for the lawn equipment.”

The plan will be executed in two phases. In October, bids will be accepted on the first phase of the project with a goal of the girls having their locker room open for the spring 2022 softball season.

In June 2022, phase two will begin regarding the press box and changes to the concession stand. The concession stand and public restrooms will serve both the baseball and softball facilities, which sit adjacent to each other.

The resolution agreement states that the entire project is to be completed by December of 2022.

“We are on track and have this outlined in a phase one and phase two plan,” Beck added.

Logan County teen beats COVID-19, crowned as homecoming queen

MAN — Keona Acord will remember Oct. 1, 2021, for the rest of her life.

That’s the night she was crowned as the Man High School homecoming queen.

Acord, a 17-year-old Man senior, was happy and surprised she was voted queen by her peers — but she’s also happy to just be alive.

Sickened with the delta variant of COVID-19 in late August, Acord was hospitalized in Cincinnati for two weeks.

She was on a ventilator briefly, but was able to recover and go back to school.

Acord’s father, Shawn, however, died Sept. 4 at the age of 44.

It was a big blow to the entire Man community.

The past month has been an emotional roller coaster ride for Keona and her family, but being crowned homecoming queen helped lessen that pain just a little.

“I will remember this forever,” she said. “I did this for my dad and my mom.”

When Keona’s name was announced as queen, the crowd at Man’s George A. Queen Memorial Field roared. Most of them knew her story and survival.

She was visibly surprised and happy, pumping her fist into the air after her name was announced.

“I was shocked and very surprised that I won this,” she said. “It means a lot to me. It surprised me because I didn’t think anyone would do this because I’m a very quiet person. When they got behind me, it really touched me.”

Man senior football player Jayden Brown, who scored a touchdown in the Hillbillies’ 20-6 homecoming win over Buffalo on Friday night, said the whole school got behind her.

Brown said he and several students went on a schoolwide campaign, encouraging students to vote for Keona.

“The whole school got behind her. We got everybody in the school to vote for her,” Brown said.

Keona’s mother, Cathy, said watching her daughter win was very special.

“This was so awesome,” Cathy Acord said. “She’s been through a lot. Keona and her dad were on the vent at the same time. They both had the delta variant. She was able to pull out of it.”

While her daughter and husband were hospitalized, the outpouring of messages and prayers from the Man community was off the charts, Cathy Acord said.

“She’s a good kid. Everybody loves her,” she said. “The messages she received and the prayers were unbelievable.”

Keona said she began feeling sick in mid-August. She was not able to attend classes at the beginning of the school year.

“I had the delta variant and had a mix of pneumonia and COVID,” Keona said. “I was on the vent for four days. Two of those days they had me awake. It took me about two weeks to pull out of it.”

Watching her be crowned on the sideline was Jerry Fekete, her longtime school bus driver.

“I was tearing up,” Fekete said. “I was crying and happy for her. She’s such a great girl and has such a great family. She’s kin to my family. My son Justin is married to her cousin Brittany Lusk. Her mom’s dad and Brittany’s mom are brothers and sisters. I was her bus driver all through school from kindergarten all the way up.”

Keona’s father, an Oceana native and a 1994 graduate of Oceana High School, was active in the Man community. He was a Little League baseball, basketball and softball coach and was employed at Coronado Coal.

Shawn and Cathy Acord were married for 19 years. He had rededicated his life to the Lord on Aug. 18.

“He’s in a better place now,” Keona said.

She said after graduation, she wants to study criminal justice, possibly at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College.