"At 7 a.m. I was the first to go into the polling center, together with my wife," one Baghdad man told RFI. "During the [October] referendum on the constitution I was also the first at the polling center. This is indescribable. I simply don't believe this is happening in Iraq. Even in my dreams I would not have imagined this would occur in Iraq."
"Today is an Iraqi feast," a woman outside Ba'qubah told RFI. "We are defying terror for stability and security to be achieved, God willing. We are looking to a better future in a democratic, united Iraq."
A Kirkuk voter said he was so happy that he pricked his finger to use his blood rather than ink to vote. "Today is a blessed day for all Iraqis, whether Arabs, Kurds, or any other community," the man said. "2006 will be a joyous year for all. Voting is a right and I was the first to cast my vote at this polling center, [literally] using my own blood."
Not all Iraqis, however, were as enthusiastic.
"I'm not voting because I have nothing to do with politics," Ali, 39, a Baghdad construction worker who declined to give his full name, told The Associated Press. "Even if they pick Saddam Hussein, I don't care because Iraq will never be back on its feet. Iraq was usurped by the Americans who are here to stay."
"The most important thing is security," a woman in Kirkuk told RFI. "Security and freedom, above all, are what we want. Right now things are going from bad to worse. We hope it will get better. We hope the situation as a whole will imporve, including the power supply. There is no electricity, no water and our life is miserable. We want better conditions, that is what we wish for."
RFI correspondents reported high voter turnout at polling stations across the country. Turnout was reportedly higher in Sunni Arab areas than it was during the January voting for the interim legislature, according to international media reports.
Officials Speak Out
Iraqi leaders cast their ballots early in the day and stressed the importance of the vote in comments to the press, RFI reported.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari voted in Baghdad, telling reporters after that "today Iraq is sending a message to the entire world, that people's will for democracy is stronger than tyranny."
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari (epa, file photo)
"Democracy does not mean elections only," al-Ja'fari said. "It means that the people doing the electing will keep a watchful eye scrutinizing the conduct of parliament and the conduct of government."
Al-Ja'fari's transitional government has been widely criticized for inefficiencies and corruption.
Sunni Arab leader Mithal al-Alusi, who heads of the Iraqi Nation List, told RFI: “I had the good luck to be the first voter to cast his vote in the Congress Palace where the political elites of Iraq approach to ballot boxes. The nice thing is that all the politicians coming here ask whether the Iraqi people will lend them their trust for a second time, or will they withdraw the trust? This is a pleasant status, rare in Iraq and in the Middle East.”
“This is a great event as it witnesses a beginning of a nearly overall national consensus over the importance of elections and for laying down foundations for building the government institutions in a way that will erase, or at least reduce, the hardships and difficulties that have been going on," Mahdi al-Hafiz, former minister of planning and current director of the Iraqi Institute for Development and International Dialogue, told RFI.
Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi was asked at a 15 December press briefing in Baghdad whether he voted for the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance list. "Actually, I voted for Iraq, for all of Iraq today. I voted for those who believe in coexistence and tolerance," he replied, according to RFI.
The Multinational Force in Iraq on December 15, 2005, released official images of the voting in the legislative elections. To view a slideshow of their photographs, click on the image.
To see RFE/RL's special webpage about the election, click here.