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In Iraq, a day of votes, violence

On March 7, 2010, millions of Iraqis voted to elect lawmakers who will rule the country for years as U.S. forces withdraw. The election was marred by dozens of attacks that killed nearly 40 people and underscored the security problems the incoming government will face.

Raad Ibrahim, 29, left his home in Adhamiyah, a mostly Sunni district of Baghdad, at 8:30 a.m. and searched in vain for his name in nearby polling stations.

"I just want to vote," he said at 2 p.m., looking exasperated. "This is my constitutional right. Why did they take it from me?"

In Basra, some men argued with a poll station chief after they, too, could not find their names on the rolls.

"In the whole Iraqi state, no one is in charge," Ryad Abed Abdullah, 47, said, looking ruffled in a brown suit. "So we don't even have someone to blame."

U.S. military officials said they were happy with their early assessment of turnout and were relieved the violence was not worse.

"All in all, it's a good day for the Iraqis and all of us," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.

U.S. military officials in Baghdad played down the violence, calling death tolls provided by Iraqi police "exaggerated." Maj. Gen. Steven Lanza, a spokesman, said many of the explosions were caused by "small water-bottle" bombs that make a lot of noise but cause no damage. Iraqi police officials said they investigated at least 20 incidents in which people were killed or wounded.

Although Maliki appeared to do well according to early reports and interviews, many voters said they hoped to bring in new faces to a parliament infamous for bickering and stalled legislation.

"I'm not optimistic," said Anwar Shajer Hamid, 50, a polling station worker in Basra who voted for a Sunni list in the predominately Shiite city. "This government's performance has been very bad. Everyone is looking out for their own interests."

Despite the day's grim start, many Iraqis said they cast votes hoping they would usher in something better. Many here still call democracy an "American experiment."

At a school in the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad, men and women lined up against a concrete wall protecting the polling station.

Inside, Silik Audy, 76, sat down waiting for her nephew.


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