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Early Voting in Iraq Marred by Suicide Attacks

An Iraqi army soldier with an ink-stained index finger stands guard at the entrance to a polling station in central Baghdad, 04 Mar 2010

Suicide bombers have attacked two polling stations in Baghdad, killing at least seven soldiers, while an explosion near another voting place not yet in use took the lives of seven civilians. The blasts occurred as early voting got under way for Sunday's national elections.

Iraqi security is out in force across Baghdad, but the stepped up presence was not enough to stop the attacks.

Many of those taking part in the early balloting were soldiers who, along with medical staff and others, are needed at work Sunday when most of the voting takes place.

At one polling station in Baghdad, there were signs the process might not go smoothly.

Security forces shoved hard to get into the building to vote, but only succeeded in blocking the entry. A senior officer tried to bring order, demanding soldiers line up on one side, officers on another. He added that if anyone was unhappy, he would kill them.

Eventually some semblance of lines was formed, but not everyone was satisfied.

This officer from Karbala, south of Baghdad, was told he could vote in the capital.

"But I cannot. Many stations do not find my name," he said. "And other officers and other soldiers do not find [their names]. Why? Why my absence from the future, I mean my voice to say in the making of the future of Iraq. But I cannot."

He is shaken by losing what he sees as his chance to make a difference.

His frustration highlights a striking aspect of this election: many voters believe it truly matters. It is only the second national vote since the U.S-led invasion in 2003, and the first that no major bloc is boycotting.

An emergency room doctor at Baghdad's Ibn Sina hospital has not had a chance to vote yet, but hopes to later in the day.

"To me it is very important," the doctor said. "Because [it is] the only way to change what was going on through these four years. You cannot change by violence. Only can change by voting."

The doctor says casting a ballot is his way of saying he does not like how things are now.

The hospital where he works sees some of the effects of how badly things have gone - the wounded from mortar and other attacks make their way to Ibn Sina. The hospital itself is surrounded by duck-and-cover bunkers. Signs posted at the entrance list forbidden items, including cellphones, cameras and bombs.

The doctor says does not expect an immediate change, especially not with U.S. troops preparing to leave the country and Iraqi security taking charge.

"Right now, I do not think so," the doctor said. "I think our troops are not ready yet, because we have many numbers, so large numbers, but [they are] inefficient."

But he believes the possibility of stability exists. He thinks it will start with jobs, arguing a man with an income is less likely to blow himself up.