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Chappelle-Nadal literally under fire in Iraq

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 4, 2010 - Missouri state Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal reports that she has arrived safely in Iraq -- but found that her first stop was a bunker.

"Within five minutes after we landed, there was shooting," said Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, in a phone call from Iraq. She and other members of her election-monitoring group were immediately ushered into a bunker, where they remained for at least an hour, Chappelle-Nadal said.

No one was injured, but the legislator and her colleagues found themselves appreciating the battle gear they had been required to wear.

The shots came from two warring factions of Iraqis who were "competing for power" and, as a result, firing at each other. Trouble was, the American entourage was caught in the middle.

Still, the legislator said she was enjoying her once-in-a-lifetime experience and was eager to hear from Iraqi officials and average people -- especially women.

Chappelle-Nadal is among seven U.S. women elected officials selected by the State Department to help monitor Iraq's national election, which got underway today and continues through Sunday.

The group is accompanied by a State Department official and a representative of the National Foundation of Women Legislators.

They left the United States last weekend, and spent several days in Jordan, now the temporary home of several hundred thousand Iraqi refugees who are eligible to vote.

Chappelle-Nadal and her colleagues are to particularly focus on encouraging women to vote. By law, a quarter of the candidates are supposed to be women, although there has been violence directed at some of them.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.