Iraqis hold first democratic election

Amid terror attacks and threat of violence, millions of Iraqis headed to the polls Sunday to choose a new Iraqi National Assembly.

About 30,000 polling places opened at 7 a.m. Monday in Iraq.

Interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni Muslim, was one of the first to cast his ballot in front of television cameras at VIP polling centers inside the Green Zone, the secure area of Iraq.

The election was not without its glitches.

Insurgents carried out more than a dozen attacks across the country, killing at least 44 people and wounding 71 others.

At 8:30 a.m, about an hour after the polls opened, the capital was pounded for 15 minutes with a series of explosions.

A suicide car bomber also struck a polling center in Western Baghdad, killing an Iraqi police officer.

Despite the attacks, President Bush called the election a resounding success.

“The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East. In great numbers, and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy,” Bush started. “By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins.”

Voting got off to a slow start in most centers in Baghdad, where voters were expected to vote later in the day amid fears that insurgents would strike voting stations.

In the overwhelmingly Shiite city of Najaf, some voters rejoiced as they came out of the polling stations.

“I’m proud of this ink,” said resident Jabber Hajer, referring to the purple ink on his finger, used to prevent double voting. “To me, it represents freedom. We want elections like the thirsty want water.

For some people the ink came with a price. Insurgents used it to identify civilians who had voted – and threw grenades at them.

Despite everything that happened, Karim Abdulla Marif, an 80-year Kurd, believes that Iraq’s future looks bright.

“We Kurds have been shedding our blood for more than 80 years,” Marif said. “I wasn’t concerned about voting… this means something good will finally happen to us. It’s the happiest moment of my life.”

As part of a plan to put Iraqi security forces out front, U.S. troops backed away from polling centers, but maintained a strong presence in the streets.

Quick-response units also stood by – ready to deal with potential attacks – and American jets and helicopters monitored the city from above.

According to CNN, more than 14.2 million Iraqis were registered to vote and about 8 million showed up to the polls, putting the turnout rate at about 60 percent.

Many Iraqis in the United States were given the chance to vote. According to FOX news, expatriates who wanted to vote had to report to polling sites near five major cities: Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. The Iraqi-Americans had from beginning of the day Friday until 5 p.m. Sunday to vote.