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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January, 2005, 21:26 GMT
Reporters' log: Iraqi elections

Voting in Iraq's first multi-party elections in 50 years is under way across the country.

Iraqis are turning out amid unprecedented security and threats of attack from insurgents to elect a transitional Iraqi assembly.

BBC correspondents report on the latest events from across the region.

Adam Brookes : Washington : 1845 GMT

With early reports coming in from Iraq of a high turnout in today's election and less violence than feared, President Bush seized the moment.

He addressed the nation to congratulate Iraqis on their courage in going to the polls and to call the elections a success.

"Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the centre of the Middle East," he said.

"In great numbers and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy."

The relief and euphoria of the Bush administration is clear. The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, said earlier that Mr. Bush had been incredibly encouraged by the news coming from Iraq. She said it was a new day in Iraq.

And the administration appears already to be taking today's events in Iraq as a vindication of its Iraq policy and as encouragement towards its broader aim of spreading democracy in the Middle East.

Paul Wood : Baghdad : 1808 GMT

There was almost a party atmosphere in the streets around the BBC bureau in Baghdad, with Iraqis we met delighted at being able to cast a democratic vote.

And in the holy city of Najaf, an 80-year-old woman declared: "I've been forced to vote under Saddam. Today I freely choose my candidate."

These were Shia voters. In Sunni towns the electoral commission admitted that some polling stations hadn't even opened.

Still, there was a trickle of voters even in Falluja, an act of courage given the insurgents' threat to behead anyone casting a ballot.

With the Shia and Kurdish turnout clearly high the crucial question now is how many Sunnis have been prepared to defy the gunmen and vote.

Ben Brown : Basra : 1701 GMT

Last minute voters ran into polling stations tonight and squeezed through the gates as they were closing.

And tonight the ballot papers are now being at the al-Jibayal polling station in the darkness, illuminated only by torches and lanterns.

Basra has had one of its frequent power cuts. Iraq may have democracy but it still doesn't have much electricity.

When a new government is finally formed here it will have a dauntingly long list of problems to deal with.

Mohammed Hussein : Najaf : 1642 GMT

The election process proceeded well since early morning, with about 5,000 people voting in each of the polling stations.

The turnout was very good, with a lot of joy and enthusiasm among voters despite the difficulties in moving from their homes to the polling stations.

People told me they were participating to make their voices heard, even if the situation was difficult.

They said they were not afraid of the insurgents. Some of them were carrying white banners in the shape of a hand palm as a sign of a defiance against the insurgents.

Jim Muir : Irbil : 1626 GMT

It was a slow start but then came the large queues outside the polling stations.

A couple of hours before the close of polls one of the polling stations near here gave me figures suggesting that the turnout at that stage was something like 85 percent.

It looks like it will be a strong showing by the Kurds and without any violence of intimidation that I know of.

Security has been very tight but there wasn't the same sense of menace here as in other parts of Iraq.

Adam Brookes : Washington : 1616 GMT

These are very important moments for President Bush. The credibility of the president depends on what happens in Iraq.

This morning we're seeing signs that the administration is cautiously encouraged by early results.

Earlier on in the week here on Capitol Hill people were expecting a "bloodbath" at the weekend. This does not seem to have happened.

Caroline Hawley : Baghdad : 1611 GMT

There are estimates that turnout for the elections has been reasonably high across the country. Yet the independent electoral commission doesn't yet know how many people have turned out. They have been talking about a figure of eight million but we just don't know.

But the day also brought nine suicide bombings and many mortars falling as well. And generally turnout depended on the region. We saw a better turnout in the Shia south and northern Kurdish regions.

In the Sunni areas of central Iraq, the turnout was much lower, in some places, getting off to an extremely slow start and with reports of polling stations empty and in one town at least no one turning up to man the station.

Paul Wood : Baghdad : 1558 GMT

A British C-130 Hercules military transport plane has crashed north of Baghdad. This has been confirmed by the Ministry of Defence in London but there are few further details at the moment

A search and rescue mission is underway with helicopters circling over the scene of the crash, but an American military official has been quoted as saying the plane's wreckage has been scattered over a large area.

There's no information on casualties and it's not known either how many people were on board the Hercules.

Mohammed Hussein : Najaf : 1533 GMT

There have been several rumours about the participation of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. It is believed he did not vote because he does not currently have Iraqi nationality.

We have contacted his office a short while ago and they confirmed this. But they said Mr Sistani stressed the need for people to take part in the elections.

As for the expected percentage of turnout in Najaf Province, initial estimates put it at 90 percent, which is favourable compared with other provinces.

So far things are calm in Najaf. Security officials said they did not record any security violation in all Najaf province, nor was there any complaints against way the elections are proceeding.

Christian Fraser : al-Amara : 1405 GMT

Across the south of the country, thousands of people have turned up to the polls, so many that a number of polling stations are staying open past the 1700 (1400 GMT) closing time.

In Maysan, home to the Marsh Arabs so long oppressed by the Saddam regime, many turned up before 1100, but so busy were polling stations in the town of al-Asaya that two of them had to close while officials marshalled the crowds.

There have been few reported incidents, although there have been several close calls. In the town of Maja al-Kabir, north of Basra, three rocket propelled grenades were fired at a British regiment. There were no casualties, but a nearby truck was hit and destroyed.

In Kalet Sulli, two men were discovered trying to set up a homemade rocket launcher fixed on election centres. Police opened fire and the men ran off.

Danny Savage : at a polling station in Manchester : 1319 GMT

Here in Manchester there are thousands and thousands of Iraqis who have come to vote. They've come from the Midlands and the north of England, queuing to vote and then getting together with their friends.

The people here are mainly Kurds and it's been largely peaceful because the Kurds largely favour the elections.

But there was a demonstration earlier on in the day by a group who thinks the voting is anti-democratic. There were a few minor scuffles, but the police quickly stepped in to ensure that order was restored.

Fadel al-Badrani : Falluja : 1305 GMT

The US army and the national guards opened a number of polling stations in and around the centre of Falluja, including one in the public park.

Other voting centres have been set up in residential areas in northern parts of the city. There has been a low turnout, but many people had thought there wouldn't be elections here at all and that no-one would be able to vote.

We have seen a number of people - just a few - heading for ballot boxes and casting their votes. Only about 25% of the Falluja's residents have now returned to the city, mostly the men, while children and women have remained outside.

So those who participated in the elections this morning were only men. There were a number of explosions this morning, as well as clashes between armed men and American forces in the southern part of the city.

Colin Blane : polling station in Glasgow : 1241 GMT

This is very much the smallest of the three British voting centres. Something like 1,300 people have been registered to vote here. So far about two thirds of them have done so over the last two days.

They've come from far and wide, from Newcastle, from Aberdeen, from Inverness and even from across Ireland.

So they've made a real effort to vote and we've had a very relaxed atmosphere nothing like the scuffles we've heard about from Manchester, but more a time for family and a time for celebrations.

Issam al-Ainachi : Basra : 1223 GMT

People have been literally streaming towards polling stations. I have never witnessed this huge turnout for long time.

I heard some people say they want the voting period extended because they do not think all people will have a chance to do so by 1700 local time when polls are due to close.

Roaa al-Zarari : Mosul : 1219 GMT

In Mosul, the day began with several explosions.

In places with a Kurdish majority, such as the Noor and Masarif districts, there is a huge turnout.

Other areas, the mainly Arab zones, has a patchy presence. In Talafar, just north of Mosul, fighting took place from 0700 for three hours between US forces and armed groups. In the four polling stations in Talafar, only one had a queue.

There's been a problem in Hamdiya, just outside Mosul. This town is inhabited by Christians and Chaldeans. No ballot boxes have been sent there. Residents shouted at the local district officers demanding boxes to be sent.

Fadel al-Badrani : Falluja : 1216 GMT

A number of polling stations have opened in the city in the north, north-east, and inside the public park. The turnout to all these stations is very low.

I witnessed some persons, all of them or most of them are men, because only men have returned to Falluja leaving their women behind.

Meanwhile, sounds of explosions are coming from the outskirts.

Paul Wood : Baghdad : 1202 GMT

So far there have been nine suicide bombings in Baghdad, including two car bombs. One attack was outside the justice minister's house. Most were at polling stations.

There was sporadic violence elsewhere in the country too. The interim president Ghazi Yawer urged fellow Iraqis not to give up their right to vote in the face of threats by the militants.

We have seen voting here in the capital, and in the streets close to the BBC office the atmosphere was almost euphoric.

One elderly Shia man told us his two sons had been executed under Saddam and he was voting now to make sure there was no return to the old days.

Magdi Abdel Hadi : BBC World Service, London : 1119 GMT

Two of the most popular satellite channels in the Arab World, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, are offering up-to-the-minute reporting on voting inside outside Iraq.

Al-Arabiya, which has taken a more favourable view of the political process, showed men and women describing the day as an historic moment and a big party for the entire country - a common expression used by many of those interviewed.

Al-Jazeera has been banned by the interim Iraqi government, which accuses the network of bias in favour of the insurgency.

Despite that, the channel has continued to cover the election by relying on video footage provided by news agencies.

Jim Muir : Irbil : 1114 GMT

We had a slight lull of voting at lunchtime but now it's picking up again as people realise there's just three hours left to cast their ballots.

We're not looking at vast crowds of people, but this particular polling station has been allocated 3,000 registered voters and I would say we've probably seen the bulk of them passing through already.

It's been orderly and there have been good crowds turning up and this is now a numbers game. The Kurds know that if they vote, they will get seats on a proportional representation basis. All the major parties here have made an alliance to ensure they maximise the impact of a Kurdistan vote.

So if people here turn out they should get something like 70 seats in the assembly, and that will help their desire to see autonomy of Kurdistan within a federal Iraq recognised in the constitution.

Fadel al-Badrani : Falluja : 1103 GMT

There are two or three places open for voting in Falluja. One place I can see is inside the public park.

There a few people are proceeding to cast their votes, but their number is less than the fingers of one hand.

Christian Fraser : al-Amara : 1035 GMT

We were told the Shia would turn out in big numbers and so it has proved. From Basra to al-Amara, to the northern most sections of the British zone, thousands of people are lined up on the streets.

Even in the smaller provincial towns 400km (250 miles) from Basra, towns such as Ali al-Ghabi and Komait, where there are only a handful of polling stations, the queues are several hundred deep.

From the air we could see thousands of people heading to the towns, some in groups, some on buses coming from all directions.

Mohammad Hussein : Najaf : 1018 GMT

A lot of women turned out and their numbers dwarf those of the men. I have seen very old people unable to walk, I have seen blind people being led to the polling stations.

Some of them told me they are taking part in the elections because the Grand Ayatollah Sistani has issued an Islamic decree which makes voting a religious duty.

Caroline Hawley : Baghdad : 1002 GMT

Iraqi authorities have told us there have now been seven suicide bombings carried out by men with explosives strapped around their bodies. There has also been a mortar attack in Sadr City in Baghdad which killed four voters.

So militants are doing what they can to carry out their threats to disrupt the poll and shed the blood of voters, but it is also very evident there is a lot of enthusiasm for the vote.

Hugh Sykes : Baghdad : 0936 GMT

For the people of the district of Muthana, in eastern Baghdad, this is not a good morning. The polling station opened at 0700 this morning. I was here talking to early voters who were cheerful and optimistic.

We went off to have breakfast at the military base where I'm embedded, and coming back we were told there had been a suicide bomb attack in this comfortable residential neighbourhood.

Across the road from me lies the naked torso of the suicide bomber. His arms and his head were blown off. Around the corner is the body of the bomber's only victim - a young man lying motionless in the road, with blood flowing from a large hole in his head.

I heard a bang a few minutes ago which has now been confirmed as another suicide bomb.

Peter Grant : Abu al-Khasib, southern Iraq : 0928 GMT

The morning call to prayer was followed in some parts of the town by loudspeaker announcements urging people to get out and vote and that's what many of them have been doing.

The queues began to form soon after the polling stations' doors had opened. Some people brought their children to make it a family affair. There was a wide range of ages and women were well represented.

One of them said she was voting as her duty as a Muslim. An elderly man said he was looking forward to a free and democratic government and a better future

Ben Brown : Basra : 0905 GMT

Turnout here has been extraordinary. We've been to a few polling stations in the city centre and we've seen huge queues of men and women who were searched separately.

Some have had to wait for an hour before casting their ballot. For the majority Shias down here in the south, who were repressed by Saddam Hussein, the taste of democracy today is particularly sweet. They are relishing this opportunity to get out onto the streets and vote.

There have been some security fears - a few minor explosions but no casualties. British troops have been flooding the streets today to make sure suicide bombers don't have freedom of movement. And their presence seems to be helping.

Paul Wood : Baghdad : 0842 GMT

In Baghdad, suicide attackers have succeeded in breaching the massive security at three different polling stations, killing a number of people as voting got underway.

There's also regular mortar fire in the capital this morning. One impact was at a polling station in Shia Sadr City.

But despite all the risk, people are coming out to vote in the capital. At Shakira polling station, about twenty people were waiting patiently to be searched before casting their ballots.

Jim Muir : Irbil : 0836 GMT

Voting is really starting to pick up very strongly now. It got off to a slow start. It was a cold morning and with the security measures, people were taking time to get to the polls.

But now that polling's been underway for two or three hours, there are very big crowds starting to form at the polling station in the centre of Arbil. There's certainly hundreds of people outside having to line up for quite a long time before they can get in.

The whole process is now taking people at least several hours to get through. And, unlike the rest of Iraq, Kurds went to the polls back in 1992 when they voted for their own regional parliament.

Matthew Grant : Baghdad : 0602 GMT

A suicide bomber killed a policeman at a security checkpoint in the Mansour district of west Baghdad shortly after voting began.

The blast outside a school also wounded two Iraqi soldiers and two civilians. In central Baghdad there is the sound of constant mortar fire, with the explosions coming almost every minute at some times.

Two mortars struck near to the Ministry of the Interior. Despite the violence, some Iraqis are attempting to get out and vote in the capital.

To get to the polling stations they must pass tight security on the streets.

The Iraqi Election Commission said nearly all of the 5,200 polling stations were opening as planned but many Iraqis said they had wait to see whether the violence early in the day continued before deciding if they would cast their votes.

Christian Fraser : Ali Alghabi : 0530 GMT

In the small market town of Ali Alghabi voters arrived early this morning.

The main school is one of five election stations in the town and security was tight. Armed police surrounded the perimeter and there were marksmen on the roof.

The army was also there in strength on the outer security cordon of the town and piles of earth have been dumped around the election stations to stop traffic going in.

Voters from the outlying villages arrived last night, many of them bussed in by local leaders. Inside the school it all seemed to be going smoothly. Each voter was given a quick body search before being shown into the voting room.

Each candidate's name was checked against a list which had been compiled during Saddam's regime for the UN's food programme and then they were each given two pieces of paper - one for the national assembly and one for the local council.

There were electoral commission staff on hand to explain the process before each voter went behind a screen to vote in private.

Once they had registered that vote and placed the slips in two clear boxes which had both been sealed with plastic ties, their index finger was dipped in a pot of indelible ink. There were several monitors in the room to observe that it was all being done fairly.

Over 2,500 people, half the population of the town, have registered to vote at this station and there was a steady stream filing into other centres around the town. The polls here will close at five, before the count begins in the same rooms where the votes have been made.

Jim Muir : Irbil : 0457 GMT

Voting was off to a slow start at polling stations near the centre of the city.

Some of the first voters waiting in the cold dawn said they had come early to avoid the rush that's expected later in the day.

People have to make their way to the polls on foot - all cars are banned from the roads except for those with special passes.

There are many checkpoints - some roads are blocked off. Security around the polling stations, mainly in schools, is even tighter, with body searches and sniffer dogs on the way in.

One early voter said that after decades of suffering under Saddam Hussein, it was the dream of the Kurds to take part in free elections in Iraq.

Others said they weren't put off by the threat of attacks at the polls - they found all the security reassuring.

The Kurds held their first free elections in 1992 but that was for their own regional assembly. This time they're looking forward to asserting their political claims on the Iraqi national stage.

In 1992 the turnout was massive. Voting hours had to be extended and some polling stations were still besieged by hundreds of voters when they closed at midnight.

This time the turnout is also expected to be very big but there are many more voting stations so huge crowds and delays may be avoided.

Ben Brown : Basra : 0410 GMT

Well, I'm standing outside a polling station in central Basra - polling station number 935, where they were so eager to get voting under way that the polling station actually opened five minutes early.

There's been a queue of 40 or 50 people outside desperate to get in and vote, most of them men it seems.

They've been going in. I spoke to the first man to cast his ballot. He emerged with his finger covered in purple indelible ink to prove that he has voted and he came out saying he was 55 years old, that he'd never done anything as important in his life as voting today, casting his ballot.

And there is heavy security around this polling station. Iraqi police sharpshooters on the roof, Iraqi policemen at the gates of the polling station carrying out a meticulous search of every single voter.

Of course the fear is that suicide bombers could try to attack polling stations here and to that end there is very strict security in place. All vehicles are banned from moving around on the roads of this city as well as everywhere else in Iraq.

People are having to walk to the polls. They don't mind doing that here because they feel that it's improving their security and of course they're slightly nervous coming out to vote.

They know in some ways they're taking a risk with their lives just turning up to a polling station here. But in Basra at least they are determined to vote and turnout looks like it's going to be pretty high.


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