The U.N. Special Representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, said that of the nearly 15 million eligible voters, about 51 percent - almost 7.5 million people - went to the polls on Saturday. Provisional results are expected in the next few days, but final results are not likely before the end of the month. 

Speaking via video link from Baghdad on Tuesday, De Mistura called the election "historic" because it was the first to take place since Iraq regained its sovereignty.

"In other words, an Iraqi election led by the Iraqis, managed by the Iraqis, with the assistance of the U.N., but done by themselves," he said.

Voters went to the polls to select provincial councils in 14 of the country's 18 provinces.  Under the new election law passed by parliament last year, voters were able to choose not only the party they favored, but also specific candidates.  The electoral commission certified more than 14,000 candidates, including some 4,000 women.

Elections are expected to be held later this year in the three Kurdish controlled northern provinces and possibly in the disputed oil-rich territory of Kirkuk.

De Mistura said Saturday's vote was also important because it included Sunni Arabs who boycotted the last election in 2005, during the height of the insurgency.

"This has changed.  And the Sunnis have decided that it was [a] big mistake not to participate in the elections and, therefore, to be run, in fact, by district councils, which were basically out of 37 only a few of them being done by Sunnis, and all the rest done, in fact, by others," he said.

The U.N. envoy said there was a huge presence of  Iraqi and international monitors for the election and that the electoral commission would review any complaints.

In addition, Iraqi security forces and police took the lead in protecting polling places, with U.S. troops playing only a supporting role in case of major violence.  But the vote was peaceful with only a few security incidents reported in the country.

In other news, de Mistura said the United Nations has approved a new headquarters complex in Baghdad.  The Iraqi government has offered the land and de Mistura said the new facility could be built in about a year's time.

The United Nations significantly scaled back its presence in Iraq, following the August 2003 attack on its headquarters that killed 22 people.  De Mistura said the new headquarters would demonstrate that the United Nations and the international community believe in the future and stability of Iraq.