BAGHDAD, Jan. 30 -- Iraqi election organizers were delighted with their apparent success Sunday, celebrating the vote as a victory against insurgents and a triumph of democracy. "Freedom has won. We have conquered terrorism," announced Adil Lami, chief electoral officer of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq.
Lami also released turnout figures -- first 72 percent, then 65 percent -- that he and other officials retracted hours later. The commission released a statement calling the numbers "very rough, word-of-mouth estimates gathered informally from the field" and saying they represented "the enormous and understandable enthusiasm felt in the field on this historic day."
A man holds his mother as she votes in the northern city of Irbil. Millions of Iraqis went to polls, but there is concern that Sunnis, who largely stayed away, will feel disenfranchised.
(Azad Lashkari -- Reuters)
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Apart from this misstep, the elections appeared to go smoothly, the climax of a planning effort that began last summer. "I'm waiting for confirmation before I feel elated . . . but if the results received so far are confirmed, then it is very good," said Carlos Valenzuela, the chief U.N. electoral adviser here, in an interview with the Reuters news agency.
U.N. advisers and members of the U.S.-led occupation helped Iraqi officials set up the electoral commission and establish a voter registration process. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the focus turned to delivering ballots and voting booths.
Organizers moved 3,630 tons of election materials produced on three continents to the more than 5,000 polling places in Iraq. Those logistics had to be coordinated with extensive security preparations designed to safeguard election workers, the materials used in the balloting and the voters themselves.
Outside the country, the International Organization for Migration, a nongovernmental agency that works with the United Nations, helped organize balloting for Iraqis abroad that also ended Sunday.
Election workers began counting ballots Sunday evening, producing tally sheets they will send to the electoral commission's Baghdad headquarters. Organizers say they expect to finish the counting in 10 to 14 days, but will release results as they become available.
Once the results are certified by the commission, a 275-member National Assembly will be seated, along with provincial legislatures and a regional parliament in the Kurdish north. Under Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law, an interim constitution approved last March by the 25-member, U.S.-appointed Governing Council, the new national legislature will guide the country toward a permanent charter and government.
The assembly will elect a president and two deputies -- to be known as the Presidency Council -- by a two-thirds majority. The council will have two weeks to name a candidate for prime minister and the members of a cabinet. The assembly must approve the new government in a vote of confidence.
The assembly's main task is to write a permanent constitution by Aug. 15, which will then be put to a national referendum by Oct. 15. If the constitution wins approval, the commission will organize new elections to be held by Dec. 15 for a permanent government that will take office by Dec. 31.
If voters fail to ratify the charter, the country will still have new elections -- for another National Assembly that will try again to write a constitution.
There is one possible delay in this timeline: The assembly can grant itself a one-time-only extension of six months if it needs more time to write the constitution.
The political jockeying in advance of this process has already begun, with leaders talking about the need for reconciliation and compromise. The most pressing concern is whether Iraq's Sunnis will feel disenfranchised by Sunday's elections. A major Sunni party withdrew from the campaign, saying threats from insurgents made it impossible to compete for votes. Because Sunnis are identified with the old regime, they may feel there is no place for them in the new Iraq.
Adnan Pachachi, a Sunni elder statesman, said the forthcoming National Assembly should begin its work by "inviting all parties not taking part in the election to participate in the writing of the constitution."
The interim minister of planning, Mahdi Hafidh, said Iraqi political leaders must embrace a spirit of reconciliation, especially toward Sunnis who boycotted the vote. "We want to build our country in a balanced way that avoids the atrocities of the past," he said.