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In Najaf, a 'Triumph Over 35 Years of Suppression'

"I came because I can feel for the first time I can do something good for my country," said Mohammad, 33. "Under Saddam, we could do nothing. Wheelchairs were so expensive. He did nothing for us."

Amad Abdul Hussein, 30, held the hand of his 2 1/2-year-old son. "This is the first time I felt the democracy inside me," he said. "I wanted to show my son. I expect he will be voting many times."


Iraqi election workers count paper ballots after polling stations closed in Najaf, where Shiite religious leaders had said it was a Muslim duty to vote. (Faleh Kheiber -- Reuters)

_____More on Elections_____
Photo Gallery: The end of Iraq's Election Day brought indications of strong turnout, but also reports of at least 30 people killed.
Live, 11 a.m. ET: Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid will discuss the elections and the latest news from Iraq.
Transcript: The Post's Jackie Spinner discussed the scene in Irbil, where elation at electing a new Kurdish parliament has Kurds partying in the streets.

Election day marked the completion of a circle for Assad Taee, a candidate for the governorship of Najaf. Arrested in Najaf in 1977 for taking part in an earlier Shiite uprising, Taee served two years in prison, was released and imprisoned again for five years, was released and then participated in the 1991 uprising. Taee then fled and settled in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia for three years. He eventually left the camp to resettle in Finland, where his family remains. He said he returned to Iraq to help locate Hussein's mass graves.

With a large Shiite vote expected to support his party, Taee stands a chance to take office when the new Najaf provincial council picks the governor.

"We just want to keep this train going," Taee said. "For us, we have won half of what we want just by getting an election. If we win, it will be the other half."

Shiite parties have insisted that they want to govern hand in hand with the Sunnis; no Shiite leaders have publicly asserted that this was a time for revenge. But a sense of delayed justice prevailed at the polls Sunday.

"This was such a happy day," said Faheka Abedl Wahed, 31, brimming with excitement. "Under Saddam, it was suffer, suffer, suffer. It was danger, prison, torture, hunger, no food, no democracy. You go to one prison and when you leave, you go to another," said Wahed, a Shiite schoolteacher.

"Today, for the first day, I feel like an Iraqi."


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