BAGHDAD: Millions of Iraqis flocked to vote in a historic election yesterday, defying insurgents who killed 37 people in a bloody assault on the poll.
Voters, some ululating with joy, others hiding their faces in fear, cast ballots in higher-than-expected numbers in Iraq's first multi-party election in half a century.
Samir Hassan, 32, who lost his leg in a car bomb blast last year, said as he waited to vote in Baghdad: "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me."
But in parts of the Sunni Arab heartland, where the insurgency has been bloodiest and many people boycotted the election, polling stations were empty.
Hailing the election as a "resounding success", US President George W Bush said: "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the centre of the Middle East."
Despite draconian security measures imposed by Iraq's US-backed interim government, militants launched a string of attacks to try to torpedo the polls.
They struck mainly in Baghdad, rocking the capital with nine suicide blasts in rapid succession. The Iraqi wing of Al Qaeda, led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.
Despite the violence, election officials said the turnout had been above expectations.
They originally put it at 72 per cent but later backtracked, saying possibly 8m had voted, which would be a little over 60pc of registered voters. With international monitors mostly staying away for fear of kidnapping, it was impossible to assess the fairness of the election or accuracy of the turnout estimates.
After the polls closed, election workers started counting ballots by hand - in some cases by candlelight due to widespread power outages.
Officials expect preliminary results in six to seven days and final results in about 10 days.