BAGHDAD — Triumphant Iraqis yesterday defied the terrorists, turning out by the millions to vote in Iraq’s first free elections in almost 50 years.
Voters joyfully waved celebratory purple-stained fingers aloft, proof that they had cast their ballots, defying a vicious campaign of assassination and intimidation to keep Iraqis from the polls.
“Freedom has won,” said Adel Lami of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. “We have conquered terrorism.”
Early estimates put the turnout at 72 percent, but Iraqi officials revised that figure, saying it was the result of the “enormous” enthusiasm of election observers.
Another official estimated that about 8 million, or slightly less than 60 percent, of the 14 million eligible voters had turned out — about the same percentage as in the most recent national elections in the United States and Britain.
Some polling boxes overflowed, and new boxes were brought in to replace them before polls closed.
By afternoon, a festive mood took hold in parts of Baghdad as residents realized that the insurgents had failed to disrupt the election and that voters had turned out in large numbers.
As expected, there were a number of terrorist attacks, mostly by suicide bombers striking at polling places. Authorities reported at least 44 persons killed in more than a half-dozen incidents, much fewer than what had been feared.
A sober note was struck late in the day when a Royal Air Force C-130 transport plane crashed north of Baghdad. Initial reports from London said about 15 British troops had been killed.
Yesterday’s turnout was highest in areas inhabited by the long-oppressed Shi’ite minority, including southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad, and in the Kurdish-inhabited far north of the country.
Anecdotal reports suggested much lower turnouts in Sunni Arab areas such as Ramadi, Fallujah and Tikrit, most of which remain too dangerous for reporters to visit. But in Baghdad’s Sunni district of Harithiya, a motorcade of happy voters went by with loudspeakers blaring, shooting their guns in the air.
Even before the voting was finished, leading politicians were predicting that Sunni leaders would be included in political deal-cutting as a 275-member national assembly begins work on forming a government and drafting a new constitution.
No official election results were expected for a week to 10 days, but a senior official in a Shi’ite coalition linked to the revered cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani was predicting victory.
“According to our public-opinion surveys in all the provinces, we won,” Ammar al-Hakim of the United Iraqi Alliance told Reuters news agency. “The United Iraqi Alliance list scored a sweeping victory.”
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, which is part of the same coalition, said the alliance would reach out to other parties.View Entire Story
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