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Iraq election: Purple fingers, but hard work ahead

Despite attacks, triumphant moments unfolded across the country as Iraqis dipped their fingers in purple ink and cast ballots in the Iraq election. Results and voter turnout are not expected for at least another day.

By Hanah AllamMcClatchy Newspapers / March 7, 2010

A young Iraqi girl asked for her finger to be inked even though she was too young to vote in this Iraq election. Iraqis voted in Sunday's election as insurgents killed 38 people across the country, unleashing a barrage of mortars intent on disrupting the historic day.

Ahmed al-Hussainey/AP

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Baghdad, Iraq

Throughout Iraq, fear gave way to defiance Sunday as voters, even in the most volatile areas, cast ballots in landmark parliamentary elections that militants tried their best to disrupt with dozens of explosions that shook Baghdad even before the polls opened.

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By the end of the day, at least 38 people were dead and more than 80 were wounded throughout the country, Iraqi authorities said, including 25 casualties in a Baghdad apartment building that collapsed on sleeping families in an early-morning blast.

The despair at the scenes of violence stood in stark contrast to triumphant moments that unfolded elsewhere as Iraqis dipped their fingers in purple ink and cast ballots in elections that were billed as the first organized and secured by Iraqis since the US-led invasion of 2003.

EDITORIAL: High stakes, shaky hopes for Iraq election

"It's in the Iraqi nature to rise to a challenge, and we were challenged," said Younis Gomar, the head of a polling center in Baghdad.

Congrats from Obama

"We mourn the tragic loss of life today, and honor the courage and resilience of the Iraqi people who once again defied threats to advance their democracy," President Obama said in a statement of congratulations.

Later, speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Obama added that by the end of August, "our combat mission will end" and said, "By the end of next year, all US troops will be out of Iraq."

The US military, however, played a crucial behind-the-scenes role Sunday, a fact that calls into question whether Iraq's security forces will be able to lock down their country on similar high-stakes occasions after the American withdrawal.

After months of joint planning with Iraqis, American attack helicopters provided air support; American drones supplied aerial intelligence; American teams provided route clearance and escorts for international monitors, and American forensics experts investigated explosives found near polling stations.

Now the hard part

With Election Day out of the way, Iraqis now face what could be an even more gargantuan task. None of the top vote getters is expected to win an outright majority, ensuring weeks and probably months of horse-trading before a new government is formed.

Analysts and foreign diplomats agree that the coalitions most likely to win are the self-proclaimed nationalist slate led by Iraq's incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite Muslim; the secular, mixed-sect ticket of former premier Ayad Allawi; and an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite candidates and religious parties that was widely predicted to trail the first two in all but the most conservative Shiite parts of the country.

Once again, however, Kurdish parties in semi-autonomous northern Iraq are likely to hold the balance of power because Arab parties will need their support to assemble a majority in the 325-seat Iraqi parliament.

Results to come