The polls opened a minute after sunrise in Baghdad today. With most cars banned from the road for security, an eerie quiet filled the streets at a time when the horns of morning traffic would normally begin their daily cacophony. Moments after 7 a.m., as the first voters walked through the crisp, clear morning air to join lines at polling stations across the city, the peace was broken by the shockwaves from a mortar landing inside the fortified Green Zone. By mid morning, TIME reporters were turned away from a busy polling station in Kerada, just south of the Green Zone, where a long line was already forming and were told to go to another center that had been approved for coverage by the media. At polling station number 10, located inside a low-slung primary school, there were more reporters than voters. Journalists captured images of the orderly lines and jostled to photograph the royalist candidate, Sherif Ali, as he arrived with a large armed escort to cast his vote. Security was tight, and every voter was patted down before approaching the ballot boxes. But voters seemed happy about the precautions. "All my neighbors are going to vote," said Salim, a 22-year-old student in line at the school. He said he had felt safe walking to the polls because "the police and army are everywhere." That much was confirmed as the reporters left, when a platoon of Iraqi soldiers, commanded by an Iraqi officer, entered the polling station on a routine check.
Desperate to Vote
Abu Fahdil desperately wanted to vote today, but both of his legs are broken, and he's stuck in a Baghdad hospital bed. His relatives have been busy rebuilding the walls of his house brick by brick from the rubble that remained after two suicide car bombers recently exploded themselves across the street. But his wife went to vote. Only one of her legs had been broken by the blast, and a neighbor helped her hobble to the polling station today. The 49-year-old housewife had voted in the two previous elections and wasn't going to miss this one for anything.
As polls closed across Iraq on Thursday, many having stayed open an extra hour into twilight to accommodate a surge of voters, Arabic news channels had yet to report a single attack on a polling station anywhere in the country. According to local news channels, rocket attacks continued against U.S. installations and some Iraqi army and police patrols were ambushed during the day. The Association of Muslims Scholars, an influential Sunni group that maintained its opposition to Thursday's elections, called on its supporters to, despite their boycott, not stand in the way of other Iraqis going to vote. This all seemed to have resonated. Areas inside the so-called Sunni Triangle reported a high voter turnout, and few incidents.
Islam Online, a popular website that posts news about the insurgency, reported that insurgents in restive Anbar province were even seen manning checkpoints to protect voters from attacks by Al Qaeda. In Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, locals described long lines and no major attacks. The polling centers in Fallujah were overwhelmed by the participation, locals told TIME, and unhappy residents complained that some election centers didn't have enough ballot boxes.
Not everything went smoothly. One of the major Sunni lists, the National Agreement Front, announced during the day that they had accurate information, including names and account numbers, about factions planning electoral fraud. And not everyone voted. Om Saad was one who refused to go to the polls. Her daughter is lying in a local hospital with grave wounds from a car bomb explosion in front of her house last month. Frustrated by the limited medical care and surrounded by seemingly senseless violence, she already feels abandoned and ignored by her government and doesn't think these elections will make any difference. "I didn't vote before and I will not vote now", she says, "Nobody will do anything."
The preliminary results of the count are expected to be announced on Sunday, but a final result is expected only two weeks from now.