Election day in Iraq: At least 44 dead; Turnout around 60%
Iraqis voted Sunday as deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes hit voters and polling stations across Iraq. At least 44 people were killed, including attackers and policemen.
Casting his vote, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called , "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny." The country's mostly ceremonial president, Ghazi al-Yawer, said it was Iraq's first step "toward joining the free world."
"I'm very proud and happy this morning," al-Yawer told reporters. "I congratulate all the Iraqi people and call them to vote for Iraq."
On his part, President Bush declared the vote a success. "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," he said, hailing Iraqis for rejecting "the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs."
Officials said turnout among the 14 million eligible voters appeared to be around 60 percent, although it would be some time before any turnout figure was confirmed. However, the polls at first were deserted in mostly Sunni cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra around Baghdad, and in the Sunni northern city of Mosul.
In general, turnout was low in the early hours of the day as most attacks occured in the morning. In the northern city of Kirkuk, buses hired by city officials picked up people walking toward voting centers to get them there more quickly.
Final results will not be known for seven to 10 days, but a preliminary tally was expected late Sunday.
About 300,000 Iraqi and American troops were on the streets and on standby to protect voters. Private cars were mostly banned from the streets, forcing suicide bombers to strap explosives to their bodies and carry out attacks on foot.
In the most deadly attack Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a polling station in western Baghdad, killing himself, three policemen and a civilian, officials said. A witness said the bomber approached a line of voters and detonated an explosives belt. Six people were also injured.
Two mortars hit near the Ministry of Interior on the city's eastern edge, one witness said. According to The AP, there were gunfire exchanges in the New Baghdad area in the eastern part of the city.
In a second suicide attack at a polling station, a bomber blew up himself, one policeman and two Iraqi soldiers. In a third suicide attack at a school in western Baghdad, three people and the bomber died, police said.
And in a fourth, at another school in eastern Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed himself and at least three others. Another four people died in other suicide attacks.
Also, three people were killed when mortars landed near a polling station in Sadr City, the heart of Baghdad's Shiite Muslim community. In addition, two people were killed when a mortar round hit a home in Amel, and a policeman died in a mortar attack on a polling station in Khan al-Mahawil, 40 miles south of Baghdad.
A suicide bomber blew himself up near the home of Iraq's justice minister, an apparent assassination attempt. The minister was not home but the attack killed one person, an Interior Ministry official said.
Five people were killed and 17 injured when a suicide attacker blew himself up aboard a minibus bound for a polling station in central Iraq, a Polish military spokesman said Sunday. The explosion rocked a minibus carrying voters to a polling station near Abu Alwan in Babil province, Lt. Col. Artur Domanski told The Associated Press.
In Mosul, the province's deputy escaped an assassination attempt, but his bodyguard was killed.
The violence came after resistance fighters rocketed the U.S. Embassy in downtown Baghdad late Saturday, killing two Americans.
Meanwhile, a US military service member assigned to Marine forces in Iraq's Anbar province was killed in combat Sunday, the military said. The American was killed during "combat operations against enemy forces" in the province, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement.
Iraqis marked two ballots: one to elect the National Assembly, the other for a provincial legislature.
An Internet posting claiming to be from an al-Qaeda linked group, which had earlier threatened to kill voters, warned Iraqis on Sunday that "Democracy and representative councils, brothers, is part of the religion of the infidels. ... Accepting them is ... renouncing Islam."