After a slow start, voters turned out in very large numbers in Baghdad today, packing polling places and creating a party atmosphere in the streets as Iraqis here and nationwide turned out to cast ballots in the country's first free elections in 50 years.
American officials were showing confidence that today was going to be a big success, despite attacks in Baghdad and other parts of the country that took at least two dozen lives. The Interior Ministry said 36 people had been killed in attacks, Agence France-Presse reported.
But the violence did not seem to have deterred most Iraqis.
The streets of Baghdad were closed to traffic, but full of children playing soccer, and men and women walking, some carrying babies. Everyone, it seemed, was going to vote. They dropped their ballots into boxes even as continuous mortar shells started exploding at about noon.
But if the insurgents wanted to stop people in Baghdad from voting, they failed. If they wanted to cause chaos, they failed. The voters were completely defiant, and there was a feeling that the people of Baghdad, showing a new, positive attitude, had turned a corner.
No one was claiming that the insurgency was over or that the deadly attacks would end. But the atmosphere in this usually grim capital, a city at war and an ethnic microcosm of the country, had changed, with people dressed in their finest clothes to go to the polls in what was generally a convivial mood.
"You can feel the enthusiasm," Col. Mike Murray of the First Cavalry Regiment, said outside a polling station in Karada, who added that the scene in Karada was essentially true for the whole area.