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Sunday, January 30, 2005

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iraq election declared 'success'

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iraq election declared 'success'

Iraq election declared 'success'
The first multi-party election in Iraq for 50 years has been declared a success at the end of polling.

The electoral commission claimed a high turnout and US President George W Bush congratulated the Iraqi people on a "great and historical achievement".

A series of election-day attacks across the country killed at least 36 people, health officials say.

Correspondents also say there was a marked division in turnout between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish strongholds.

In the Shia Muslim south and Kurdish north of the country, lines formed at polling stations and there were smiles and tears of joy among voters.

But polling stations in many Sunni-dominated cities in the centre of Iraq were closed or deserted, as voters stayed away out of fear of attack or opposition to the poll, reports said.

Just before polls officially closed, a British military transport plane crashed north of Baghdad. The cause is not known, and there is no word on casualties.

'Resounding success'

Voting was to have ended at 1700 (1400 GMT) but was extended to allow people waiting at polling stations to cast their ballots.

Iraqi electoral officials estimated that up to eight million Iraqis could have voted - more than 60% of those registered.

A large number of people have shown up to vote: men and women, Muslims and Christians, Sunnis and Shias
Iraqi woman,

Earlier, top UN electoral adviser Carlos Valenzuela offered a more cautious assessment, saying turnout appeared to be high in many areas, but that it was too early to know for sure.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Baghdad says the question now centres on how many Sunnis will have voted - in other words, whether these elections produce a government of all Iraqis.

In Washington, Mr Bush acknowledged that the "insurgents will continue to wage war".

But he said "the Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success".

More than 200 parties and coalitions are competing for seats in the transitional assembly, which will draft a new Iraqi constitution ahead of planned elections for a full-term parliament.

Country divided

Voting at polling stations in the country's south and north was brisk. Some voters described the day as "the most important in their lives".

Sunday: Polls opened for 10 hours, with an extension for those still queuing to vote at 1700 (1400 GMT)
Next week: Vote counting for 4 or 5 days
Early March: PM appointed
Late March: Government formed

But reports from central Sunni cities, such as Falluja, Samarra and Ramadi, say not all polling stations opened, and there was at best a trickle of voters.

Insurgent threats of violence may have deterred some, but others may be obeying boycotts of the elections called by some Sunni political parties, correspondents say.

Others may not want to legitimise an election they believe is offering false hope, observers say.

Authorities had imposed an unprecedented series of security measures - including shoot-on-sight curfews, closed foreign borders, a ban on cars and travel restrictions within Iraq.

Despite the measures, the capital was hit by nine suicide bombings and a number of mortar attacks - mostly soon after polls opened.

In an internet statement, a group said to be led by militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed to be behind some attacks in Baghdad and Mosul.

But the security measures have had an effect, says the BBC's security correspondent Paul Welsh, as the bombs were far smaller than they could have been, packed into cars.

You can watch John Simpson's Panorama programme on the state of Iraq on BBC One on Sunday 30 January at 2215 GMT and on BBC World television on Saturday 5 February at 0810, 1210 and 2210 GMT.
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