Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite who leads another list, also beamed and shook hands with supporters after he emerged from a VIP polling site tucked inside the green zone.
“This is history in the making,” he said. “It is a momentous point in history. … I feel great, really believe me, this is one of our big achievements.”
In Baghdad’s typically busy Shi’ite neighborhood of Karrada, Iraqis began to slowly trickle out of their homes early in the morning, walking in groups of two or more, husbands and wives and mothers, daughters and granddaughters.
Adnan Mehdi, 65, dressed in a threadbare blue pinstripe suit and red tie, proudly beckoned to two journalists.
“Where have you been? I was the first voter here,” he said, showing off his purple-inked finger.
Samar Shakur walked hand in hand with her 70-year-old grandmother, Khadra Idriss, from the Karrada polling site, both with the telltale ink marks.
Explosions sounded throughout the capital in the early morning and again in the afternoon, but people appeared to take them in stride, hardened by months of violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of Iraqis.
Raghdad Kassim, 28, a pharmacy worker, voted with her mother, Intesar Mohammed, at the Masrja Ayun Primary School in Karrada, despite weeks of death threats pasted across Baghdad neighborhoods.
“All the Iraqi people are hoping for this election to take place. I am not afraid of coming to vote, and I hope that the list that I voted for will be good for Iraq. Our future is bright, inshallah [God willing],” she said.
As poll-closing time neared, Karrada’s main thoroughfare still looked like a pedestrian mall. Most shops stayed closed all day, but old men had gathered to discuss the day’s events as they drank tea and played dominoes with purple-stained fingers.
Women, who earlier in the day had stayed indoors, began to emerge, strolling two, three and four abreast in the middle of the streets to the polling booths.
“Women are supposed to vote,” said Assia Witwit, wife of Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan, who voted in the green zone. “The women are more interested in this because they want to get their rights.”
Rajaa Karzai, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council that led the country before the transfer of power to Iraqis in June, agreed.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am,” she said, her head covered in a scarf. “This brings the woman so she feels like a person and she feels she there is no difference between her and men. Now she feels equal to man.”