Iraqis are today awaiting the results of their parliamentary elections.
Millions of voters turned out to cast ballots on March 8 despite bomb, rocket, and mortar attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist militants that reportedly killed at least 36 people, mostly in Baghdad.
The first official results are expected to be released within the next few days, and reports say it appears unlikely that any single political group will dominate the results.
About 6,200 candidates were competing for 325 parliamentary seats in the vote for Iraq's second full-term legislature since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.
The AFP news agency cites the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission as saying preliminary estimates indicate that voter turnout was 50 percent or more in all but one of 16 provinces that it had figures for. Iraq has 18 provinces.
The report says turnout was strongest, at 76 percent, in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region, and in the disputed province of Kirkuk, at 70 percent.
U.S. President Barack Obama praised the election as an important milestone for Iraqis, and confirmed his plan to withdraw all American forces from the country by the end of 2011.
"On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the Iraqi people on their courage throughout this historic election. Today, in the face of violence from those who would only destroy, Iraqis took a step forward in the hard work of building up their country," Obama said at the White House.
"The United States will continue to help them in that effort as we responsibly end this war and support the Iraqi people as they take control of their future."
The European Union has also welcomed the vote, praising the Iraqis for courage and for demonstrating a commitment to democracy.
with agency reports