Defiant Iraqis Vote Despite Intimidation, Killings

Dozens killed and wounded amid Iraq parliamentary voting.

March 7, 2010, 6:13 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 7, 2010 — -- The voting is done. Now comes time for counting.

Officials at Baghdad's Data Entry Center have begun counting the millions of votes that will decide which of the 6,200 candidates will fill Iraq's 325 parliamentary seats and who will become Iraq's next prime minister.

The government imposed an 8 p.m. curfew for Baghdad. It wasn't clear if there was an imminent threat to the city or if the government simply wanted to curtail political celebrations prior to the preliminary official vote count due to be released in three days.

In Fallujah, the Sunni city in Anbar province west of Baghdad, there were celebrations in the streets with roving groups of young men, police and soldiers shooting guns into the air because of the rumor swirling through town that Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc was ahead in key provinces.

Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Baathist who was interim prime minister in 2004, has cobbled together a political bloc that includes Tariq al-Hashimi, a current Sunni vice president.

Late tonight, the national government also extended the curfew to cover Fallujah.

At around noon today, the violence that marked the morning ended as if on cue. Throughout the afternoon, Baghdad residents headed to the polls in greater numbers.

Iraq Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who was voting in his home precinct, said the attacks would not stop Iraqis from participating.

"I think the overwhelming majority will defy, will challenge and will vote," Mahdi said.

By day's end, at least 38 people were killed, four of them children, and 73 injured in a series of attacks that got under way throughout the country within minutes of the polls opening at 7 a.m.

In Baghdad, police reported at least 13 homemade bombs and more than two dozen mortars struck several locations throughout the city, including two bombs that collapsed two residential buildings in different parts of Baghdad.

Local television showed pictures of emergency personnel scrambling over the rubble of a residential building. They appeared to have identified signs of life, but no live victims were initially pulled from the building.

Polling Places Become Epicenters of Violence

On the western side of Baghdad, a female suicide bomber blew herself up near a polling center.

In Fallujah, in western Anbar province, there were four attacks, including one in which a gunman fired an AK-47 at a polling station.

In Diyala province north of Baghdad, at least seven bombs exploded near polling stations.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has released statements in recent days threatening Iraqis with death if they voted. But after several hours of attempts, the group was unable to directly attack any of the more than 50,000 polling stations throughout the country -- perhaps a sign that Iraq's elaborate security plan for the protecting polling stations may be working.

More than a million security personnel fanned out across Iraq to protect polling stations and voters.

For more than a week now, Iraqi police and army patrol have been stationed at each polling site in the country. The locations have been swept for bombs, sometimes several times. The security presence was meant to ensure that no bombs could be placed directly in or near polling centers.

Even if directly attacked, the Iraqi government said a plan was in place to have a polling center reopened within 30 minutes.

Despite the attacks, many Iraqis were undeterred.

Qassim Aboudi, a spokesman for Iraq's High Electoral Commission, said turnout was at a moderate level in the early hours and expected the numbers to grow as the day went on.

Abdul Razaq Abdul Hussein, 63, showed off his finger -- stained purple, indicating he had voted.

"I'm very happy," he said. "I feel like today is a feast day."

ABC News' Ali Hussien, Mazin Faiq and Aadel Rashid contributed to this report.

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