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Iraqis want change more than they fear bombs

BAGHDAD – Against the purple haze of dawn, the first explosion detonated in the capital city as election workers were getting ready to open the polls. Dozens more followed in a tumultuous day that seemed to prove Iraqis want change more than they fear bombs.

At least 38 people died and more than 90 were injured — most of them when two buildings were brought down by explosions. But most of the attacks were bombs that detonated without causing any casualties — designed to keep voters away from an election that insurgent groups have declared illegitimate.

The turnout is expected to be announced on Monday and the initial results several days later. Bargaining among the major parties to form a coalition government is expected to take weeks.
Helicopters carrying a U.N. team from Baghdad to al-Anbar province flew over a bridge blown up just last year over the Euphrates River and fields that would be greener if farmers in the neglected Sunni province received more help from the central government.

Iraqis vote
Near Ramadi, young men display their ink-stained fingers after voting.
(Jane Arraf/GlobalPost)

Near Ramadi, at a rural school used as a polling station, a steady stream of voters came in to cast their ballots and dip their fingers in the purple ink that has become a symbol of Iraq’s messy democracy.

“People have learned to live with the violence — this is a challenge to them to come out and vote,” said Imad Aboud, a former schoolteacher working at the polling site. Like all the polling stations, supplies for election workers included battery-operated lamps in the likely event that the electricity failed.

Families herded their children with them into voting booths to watch and emerged with smiles of accomplishment. This election is the first in which Sunni politicians have realized that previous boycotts have done them more harm than good. The turnout in Sunni areas is expected to be at a record high.

In Najaf, in the Shiite south, voters came out despite a car bomb on Saturday that killed three pilgrims near the city’s holy shrine and wounded a dozen more.

Voters in the city where Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr fought U.S. forces in 2004 turned against religious parties in provincial elections last year and in this election, are expected to favor anyone who can deliver security, jobs and electricity.

“The last elections gave us experience and taught us a lesson — to choose the right man for the right job,” said a laborer who brought his young sons with him to vote.

In Baghdad, where the dusty streets were littered with the remains of campaign posters, the top U.N. official said after the polls closed that the day "had been a triumph of reason over confrontation and violence."

“Iraqis are making history this day,” he said. Most of that history though will be written over the next few months as a new government takes shape. With no one party expected to win a big enough margin to govern by itself, it’s not yet known what coalitions will be formed or whether Iraq’s politicians will heed what Iraqis were telling them at the polls.