70% Iraqis may take part in elections

More than 70% of Iraqi voters may have taken part in Thursday's parliamentary election, Iraqi electoral officials have said. Election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said first estimates show that between 10 and 11 million Iraqis cast their ballot.

Counting is under way after the landmark vote but results are not expected for at least two weeks. International observers said the vote generally met international standards. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq is to be commended on the way it has performed its role under the difficult circumstances prevailing in Iraq," Paul Dacey, spokesman for the International Mission for Iraqi Elections, said.

The international observers did say there were some concerns over technical and procedural issues. Mr Dacey said that holding three major electoral events in one year, as Iraq had done, would have presented a significant challenge even for well-established democracies.Around 15 million Iraqis were eligible to vote for the country's first full-term government since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

The vote will elect 275 members of a national parliament, who will in turn appoint a president. Voting was extended in many parts as Sunni Arabs took part after boycotting previous elections. Election officials reported high turnouts even in Sunni insurgent strongholds such as Falluja and Ramadi. The voting took place amid a massive security operation, with 150,000 Iraqi troops and police deployed and borders and airports closed.

US President George W Bush described the vote as "historic", and appeared delighted with the high turn out. Sunni nationalist insurgent groups had urged people to vote to prevent the election of a government dominated by Shias and Kurds, reports BBC news. I.L.

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