Iraqis Defy Attacks to Cast Historic Votes
8 minutes ago
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis danced and clapped with joy Sunday as they voted in their country's first free election in a half-century, defying insurgents who launched eight deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. The attacks killed at least 31 people.
After a slow start, men and women in flowing black abayas — often holding babies — formed long lines, although there were pockets of Iraq where the streets and polling stations were deserted. Iraqis prohibited from using private cars walked streets crowded in a few places nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with voters, hitched rides on military buses and trucks, and some even carried the elderly in their arms.
"This is democracy," said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.
Officials said turnout appeared higher than expected, although it was too soon to tell for sure. Iraqi officials have predicted that up to 8 million of the 14 million voters — just over 57 percent — would participate.
In a potentially troublesome sign, the polls at first were deserted in mostly Sunni cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra around Baghdad, and in the restive, heavily Sunni northern city of Mosul.
Clashes had erupted between insurgents and Iraqi soldiers in western Mosul. And in Baghdad's mainly Sunni Arab area of Azamiyah, the neighborhood's four polling centers did not open, residents said.
A low Sunni turnout could undermine the new government and worsen tensions among the country's ethnic, religious and cultural groups.
A Web site statement purportedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for election-day attacks in Iraq, although the claim could not be verified. The Jordanian militant is said to be behind many of the suicide car-bombings, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners in Iraq, and his group vowed to kill those who ventured out to vote.
Casting his vote, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called it "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny."
Turnout was brisk in Shiite Muslim and mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods. Even in the small town of Askan in the so-called "triangle of death" south of Baghdad, 20 people waited in line at each of several polling centers. More walked toward the polls.
Rumors of impending violence were rife. When an unexplained boom sounded near one Baghdad voting station, some women put their hands to their mouths and whispered prayers. Others continued walking calmly to the voting stations. Several shouted in unison: "We have no fear."
"Am I scared? Of course I'm not scared. This is my country," said 50-year-old Fathiya Mohammed, wearing a head-to-toe abaya.
At one polling place in Baghdad, soldiers and voters joined hands in a dance, and in Baqouba, voters jumped and clapped to celebrate the historic day. At another, an Iraqi policeman in a black ski mask tucked his assault rifle under one arm and took the hand of an elderly blind woman, guiding her to the polls.
In Ramadi, U.S. troops coaxed voters with loudspeakers, preaching the importance of every ballot.
More @ Source
Good for them. I personally had the impression that no one was going to turn up. For 57% to turn out to vote, that's pretty awesome.