Iraqis crowd the polls
Despite insurgent attacks, initial reports of strong turnout in Iraq's landmark vote lend air of legitimacy.
Defying fears of suicide bombings, mortar attacks, and insurgent threats to kill every voter, Iraqis Sunday lined up in greater numbers than expected to cast ballots in historic elections.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite a string of violent attacks that fell short of insurgent warnings, Iraqis took a first step toward determining their future, a democratic result that - however imperfect and rudimentary - is likely to reverberate across the Middle East.
The vote will also hand the reins of power in Iraq to the majority Shiite Muslims, the election's most enthusiastic supporters, for the first time since modern Iraq was created in 1920.
The moment could not have been more surreal. Here in the capital, where security - and election day attacks - were concentrated, Iraqi voters turned a long-awaited day of reckoning into a collective sigh of relief after voting in an environment of de facto martial law.
With private vehicles banned to prevent car bombs, Iraqis took over the streets of Baghdad, playing soccer and going for walks - even those in wheelchairs were pushed along - as threats of catastrophic attacks failed to materialize.
"Why should I be afraid?" asked Arifa Abed Mohamed, an elderly woman in a black abaya, who was first to vote at dawn on one Baghdad polling station. "I am afraid only from God."
She was not alone. Iraq's electoral commission estimated that nationwide turnout could reach more than 60 percent - higher than the figure of 50 percent officials had touted as a yardstick of success.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared the vote "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny." Indeed, some voters brought bundled-up babies and entire families to take part.
By nightfall, violent attacks in the capital had left 27 dead and more than 50 wounded.
Late in the afternoon, four people with ink-stained fingers - proof that they had voted - were reportedly killed by grenades along Haifa Street, a bastion of insurgents that have vowed to "wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood."
Still, insurgent violence was less than predicted - comparable in Baghdad, in fact, to carnage that can be wrought by car bombs. Nationwide, 35 people are known to have died in attacks, along with nine suicide bombers - a result that US and Iraqi officers say is galvanizing Iraq's budding security forces.
"We want to live," cried Vian Othman, emerging from the polling station with tears streaming down her face. The regime of Saddam Hussein killed her father in the 1970s. Voting, she said, was her revenge.
"Freedom and happiness and victory," sobs Ms. Othman, describing her emotions at the ballot box. "We were a little bit afraid [before coming], but we put courage in our hearts."
US and Iraqi forces endeavored to underpin that courage with unprecedented security measures. Voters were searched multiple times at each station; vehicles were kept far back; US jet fighters streaked through the sky, while helicopters buzzed above the city.
It was the first time that both the Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard (ING) forces - regular targets of insurgent killings - have engaged in a nationwide operation, and worked so closely together.