Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) -- Threats and violence have not prevented a massive turnout of voters in Iraq's first democratic elections in 40 years. According to unofficial sources in the Iraq's Independent Electoral commission, 72% of voters had cast their ballot by 3 p.m. (local time). The U.N.'s representative to the Electoral Commission of Baghdad, Carlos Valenzuela, stated that voter turnout has "surpassed predictions".
President Ghazi al Yawar was one of the first to vote, in the heavily-guarded Green Zone. Many women seized the opportunity to vote. Disabled and blind people too arranged to be accompanied to the polls. In many southern cities, where the majority is Sciite, the muezzin, after the call to pray, urged people to go to the polls.
Many insurgent groups had promised to sow fear and spill blood on Iraq's election day and unfortunately they kept their word. The Ministry of Health announced that 24 people have been killed and 65 injured since the polls were opened. According to the announcement, most victims were in Baghdad, where polling stations were hit by suicide bombers and mortar fire. Other mortar rounds were randomly fired on various areas of the city and against the well-guarded Green Zone. The home of Justice Minister Malik al Hassan was also struck, probably by a car-bomb. Deaths and injuries have also been reported in Mosul, Dyala, Kirkuk and Baquba. For security reasons, Iraqi borders were sealed off and the Baghdad airport closed; only authorized vehicles were able to circulate.
Choosing from 111 parties, Iraqis voted today for the 275-member National Assembly which will draft the new constitution and choose a president and vice-presidents. The head of state will then choose a prime minister. To reach the polls, voters had to go through 3 checkpoints: the first manned by soldiers of the National Guard, the second by police and the third by polling station security guards. Once voters marked their ballots and placed them in two transparent boxes, their index finger was dipped in indelible ink.
The two most favoured parties are the United Iraqi Alliance and the Iraqi List: the first is a Shiite-dominated slate of candidates endorsed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani and also includes some small Sunni and Kurdish groups. The Iraqi List is led by interim Premier Ayad Allawi. The Kurdistan Alliance List is also expected to do well: it includes the two main Kurdish parties (Kurds make up 15-20% of Iraq's population).