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Iraqis Vote in Pivotal Election, Undaunted by Deadly Attacks

March 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Turnout in Iraq's parliamentary election topped 60 percent, despite a wave of attacks targeting the polls that killed at least 38 people. Gwen Ifill reports.
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GWEN IFILL: The vote-counting began today in Iraq, after the country held elections for a new parliament. The outcome will decide the shape of the government that presides over the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Purple ink-stained index fingers were once again on display across Iraq, one day after national elections. In the first voting planned and executed by Iraqis since the war began in 2003, heightened expectations translated to high turnout, 62 percent.

Much of the day’s violence occurred in and around Baghdad, where up to 100 explosions sounded across the city. U.S. military officials said many were caused by noise bombs, explosives in plastic bottles.

In the deadliest attack of the day, a rocket leveled a Baghdad apartment building, killing 25 Iraqis. U.S. forces left patrolling to their Iraqi counterparts. And, today General Ray Odierno said that bodes well for the planned U.S. troop drawdown.

MAJ. GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO, commander, Multi-National Corps-Iraq: Today, I believe the natural evolution is, we’re going to be at 50,000 by the 1st of September. Everything is on track for that to happen. And, as the secretary has said and I have also said, unless there’s a catastrophic event, we don’t see that changing. We’re — we think this is another milestone, but there’s more to come.

GWEN IFILL: Top U.S. and U.N. diplomats in Iraq also hailed the election as a success.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, U.S. ambassador to Iraq: I think it was really a very good day for Iraqi democracy. And I believe it will be — it will be a real foundation point, a real new beginning for a U.S. relationship with Iraq that we hope will stretch decades to come.

AD MELKERT, United Nations representative in Iraq: This day has been a triumph of reason over confrontation and violence. Iraqis are making history.

GWEN IFILL: More than 6,000 candidates competed for 325 parliamentary seats. Millions of ballots are now being counted, with final results not expected before Thursday.

QASSIM AL-ABOUDI, spokesman, Independent High Electoral Commission (through translator): The ballots were opened and the results of the list were examined as well. And then the results will be sent electronically to the center for inserting data.

GWEN IFILL: According to early estimates, a coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to be leading in the south. On Sunday, he expressed confidence the violence wouldn’t derail the outcome.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, Iraqi prime minister (through translator): I’m very assured that the election process is going well. But if some lapses take place, this won’t affect the election results, God willing.

GWEN IFILL: Maliki’s fiercest critic, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, led a secular coalition, which appeared to be doing well in heavily Sunni regions. And in the Kurdish north, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his followers faced a challenge from a new Kurdish party.