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Iraqis Vote Under Threat Of Insurgent Violence

Voters line up at a polling station in Al-Najaf today 30 January 2005 -- Iraq is voting today under a threat of insurgent violence that makes it uncertain how many voters will actually go to the voting booths.

The most violent attack to disrupt the voting has been a suicide bombing at a polling center in Baghdad's majority Shi'a district of Al-Sadr City. A man with explosives strapped to his body killed at least four people and wounded nine others.

Other suicide and mortar attacks have killed at least two more people as insurgents have hit targets in Al-Basrah, Baquba and Mosul.

However, voting is reported to be proceeding smoothly in many Iraqi cities and towns, particularly in majority Shi'a southern Iraq and the Kurdish-administered areas of northern Iraq.

Polling stations in Sunni-populated central and north central Iraq -- where insurgents have been most active over the past months -- are reported to be largely empty.

Call To Vote

Iraqi officials are encouraging voters to come out despite the fear of violence.

Iraqi interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir called on his countrymen to come to the polls as he cast his ballot today inside Baghdad's heavily fortified central administrative area, the Green Zone.

"Deep in my heart I feel Iraqis deserve free elections. This will be our first step toward joining the free world and be a democracy that Iraqis will be proud of," al-Yawir said.

But the interim Iraqi president has also sought to dampen any expectations that Iraqis will turn out en masse to vote despite the security problems.

Al-Yawir said at a press conference in Baghdad yesterday that the government recognizes that "the majority" of Iraqis may elect to stay home today.

"What we hope is that all [Iraqis] will take part, but if the majority of the Iraqi people do not take part.... We know that the majority will not take part because of the security situation and not because they are boycotting the elections. There are only very few who will boycott, but the majority has decided not to participate out of fear that their [fellow] voters will [also] not go to ballot centers in places that lack security," al-Yawir said.

Still, if security is uppermost in many minds today, it is unclear whether that alone is keeping voters at home in the most restive areas of central and north central Iraq. There some Sunni community leaders have repeatedly called for a boycott of the polls both out of security concerns and out of fears the vote will turn power over to the Shi'a majority.

Because Shi'a make up some 60 percent of Iraq's population, the poll is expected to produce a National Assembly with a majority of Shi'a members. This would be the first time the Shi'a have come to political power after decades of being largely sidelined by the formerly dominant Sunnis.

Along with today's election of members of the 275-seat National Assembly, voters are also choosing the members of 18 provincial assemblies. In the mainly Kurdish region of northern Iraq, voters are also choosing an autonomous parliament.

The polls are due to stay open until at least 3 p.m. Prague time.

Related stories:
Violence On The Rise Ahead Of Iraq Election
Iraqis Abroad Vote For Second Day
Iran Turnout Key To Expat Vote
Iraqi Expatriates Cast First Ballots

For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005."

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