By Hugh Sykes
BBC News, Baghdad
There was a traffic jam inside the polling station at Badr al-Kobra school - a traffic jam of people, as hundreds of voters flocked into the station.
There were long queues at some polling stations
Inside scrutineers and election officials sat rather awkwardly at small school desks handing out ballot forms.
The forms are complex, printed on large A5 sheets of paper, there are 106 alternative lists to choose from.
Voters put their marks against one, fold the paper into a quarter of its size, dip their right index finger into a small bottle of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, then slide the paper into the sealed plastic ballot boxes.
There was a suicide bomb at this school during the January election, so security was tight.
At each end of the street police created two corridors of razor wire, one for men and one for women.
At the end of the razor wire line they were body-searched.
There was another body search at the entrance to the school and everybody had to show identity cards.
On some faces there was a brief flicker of alarm when a distant explosion was heard - there was a mortar attack on the green zone five kilometres away.
But nothing today would stop the people from voting.
Men and woman came, many carrying small children, and in the street outside the school they formed silhouettes, in swirls of dust on a warm autumn day in Baghdad.
One voter said: "This is stability, at last".
Another, with tears in his eyes, told me: "This is the beginning of a new Iraq. I am so happy."
Security was high in Muthanna after a bomb at previous polls
Iraqis are known for their spontaneous, and often poetic eloquence.
Ali al-Musawi, a Shia Muslim originally from Sadr city said: "Iraq is like a ship in a storm being tossed form left to right, and now we need a new captain to take us to land and to safety."
One man hoped the election would bring an end to the occupation, but this would depend, he said, on maintaining unity.
"Stability can only come from unity. When we have stability," he said, " then the Americans can go."
In Muthanna, in Baghdad, it has certainly been the day of unity and celebration that President Jalal Talabani said he hoped for.