Iraq's general election was another milestone in the political process begun by the Americans after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Voting was extended by an hour in some areas because of the high turnout. Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the last election in January, participated in large numbers. The poll was not seriously disrupted by violence.
The BBC News website looks at the key questions behind the vote.
When do we expect to hear the result?
The Independent Electoral Commission has announced that the election's final results will be released in about two weeks.
The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), an interim constitution agreed by the Governing Council in March 2004, states that the provisional results will then have to be ratified by the electoral commission and the Supreme Court within 15 days.
What comes after the election?
Article 61 D of the TAL says that the new government should assume office no later than 31 December 2005.
However, the law also outlines a process of forming a new administration that could take as long as three months:
The new parliament, the Council of Representatives, must hold its inaugural session within 15 days of the official results.
MPs will then have to choose a president and two vice-presidents within 30 days.
The president must in turn appoint a prime minister within 15 days.
The new prime minister will then have 30 days to recommend a cabinet to parliament for approval.
It took three months for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari's transitional government to be sworn in after the January elections.
Most experts doubt that the election will dramatically change the political landscape. But if the Shia United Iraqi Alliance does less well, and the Sunni Arabs do better than in January, this will affect the horse-trading that will follow the election results.
The new government and parliament have urgent tasks awaiting them.
They must work out a more successful way of curbing the insurgency, finalise the constitution and, crucially, win credibility in the eyes of the long-suffering Iraqi people.
Why did the election matter?
The vote on 15 December will produce a government with a full four-year term, rather than another interim government like the two which have preceded it.
There is a good chance the new government will be more representative, especially of the Sunni Arabs. The hope is therefore that a new government will have greater legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis and the outside world.
The election marked the end of a political process essentially shaped by the Americans and the transition to an era in which Iraqi politics will very largely be shaped by Iraqis.
The American military presence will, of course, continue for the time being, which will necessitate continuing co-operation between US officials and the Baghdad government. But it will be harder for critics to maintain that the whole process is alien to Iraqis and illegitimate.
The big hope in Washington is that a successful election will mark the beginning of the end of the insurgency - and so open up the possibility of a phased withdrawal of US forces starting next year.
How was the vote run?
The electoral system was different from that used in the last elections, in January. This time each of the 18 provinces will have a fixed number of seats, in proportion to its population. It will get its allotted seats regardless of turnout.
This is likely to benefit the Sunni Arabs, who are poorly represented in the current parliament but are likely to have substantially more members in the new one.
In any case, Sunni turnout was far higher than in January as it was in the October referendum on the constitution.
Who are the main players?
A large number of parties and coalitions registered to take part. But the main blocs are:
United Iraqi Alliance: This brings together Shia religious parties including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), the Daawa Party and the Sadrist movement of Moqtada Sadr.
The Kurdish alliance bringing together the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
A secular nationalist alliance led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
A rival secular nationalist alliance led by current deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi.
Various Sunni groupings, none of which has a strong claim to be the leading representative of a divided community. The oldest and perhaps best known is the Iraqi Islamic Party.
The Shia bloc is expected to do well, but not quite as well as in the last elections.
Last time, the leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, gave the bloc his tacit blessing, but this time his position is more ambiguous. In addition, the outgoing government of Ibrahim Jaafari, dominated by the big Shia religious parties, is generally considered to have performed poorly.
What were the main issues surrounding the vote?
Violence: Securing the polling stations once again posed considerable logistical challenges. Iraqis showed yet again they are ready to go out and vote at great personal risk to themselves. During the voting, however, insurgent groups seemed to adhere to a tacit ceasefire.
Sectarianism: Sunni-Shia tension not only contributes to the climate of insecurity. It also favours parties which appeal openly to voters' ethnic or sectarian identity, at the expense of those campaigning for national unity.
Mistrust: There were plenty of complaints in the run-up to the elections - especially in Sunni areas - about whether there would be enough polling stations, whether provinces have been allotted a fair number of seats, and whether the electoral commission is neutral. These could lead to disputes over the outcome of the vote.