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Iraqis Turn Out In Large Numbers To Vote

Women voting in Al-Najaf 30 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- With polls closed across Iraq, voter turnout was reportedly high and, so far, insurgents appear to have failed to carry out threats of spectacular attacks.

Adel al-Lami, a spokesman for Iraq's Independent Election Commission, told reporters that voter turnout shortly before polls were due to close was 72 percent of registered voters.

He also said nearly 99 percent of polling stations had opened around the country, with only a few not able to open for security reasons or because of a lack of staff.

Ashraf Qazi, the personal envoy to UN chief Kofi Annan, said the election appeared "free and fair" and showed the determination of the Iraqi people to exercise their right to vote.

No official tallies from the vote are expected immediately as ballot counts are forwarded to Baghdad for confirmation. Iraq's election commission has not given a firm timeline but announced that the result might be released within about 10 days.

Insurgent Attacks Continue

But this election day has also seen insurgent attacks that have killed some 22 people across the country.

One suicide bomber blew himself up at a polling station in eastern Baghdad.

Still, amid the attacks, Iraqis do appear to be turning out to vote in substantial numbers -- particularly in the Shi'a majority south and the Kurdish-administered north of the country.

It is unclear how the voting is going 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. That will mark the first time the Shi'a come to political power after decades of being largely sidelined by the formerly dominant Sunnis.

Iraqi officials have called on voters throughout the day to come out to vote.

Democratic Challenges

Interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir -- in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq -- called the election a battle between those who want to vote and "terrorists" who want to stop them.

"This is a challenge. The will of the people of Iraq will prevail and the terrorism will fail. We, every Iraqi, have the honor to put this ink on our fingers. Nobody is above the law and exempt from these measures because the law, God willing, is above everything in this country," al-Yawir said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have described today's elections as the country's first step toward a new, more democratic system of government. The National Assembly -- which is directly elected on a one-man, one-vote basis -- will choose the next interim government and oversee the writing of the country's first post-Saddam Hussein constitution.

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.

Related stories:

Voter Turnout Strong In Nearly All Provinces
Al-Najaf Turnout High, But Irregularities Cited
Iraqis Vote Under Threat Of Insurgent Violence

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