Iraqi election officials say voters turned out for Sunday's national election in numbers far higher than expected.

Three hours before the polls closed, the country's electoral commission said voter turnout was 72 percent.

The chief United Nations election organizer for Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, could not confirm the figure, but said overall turnout was higher than expected, with women making up a large share of voters. Speaking on American television, he said turnout was high in northern and southern Iraq, but lower in the Sunni-majority cities in the center of the country. 

Reporters in Baghdad were told that turnout was 90 percent or even higher in parts of Iraq with a large Shi'ite Muslim majority.

Poll workers said they were stunned by the turnout, which exhausted their supplies of paper ballots in some places.

No detailed voting figures have yet been released.

Tens of thousands of police and troops, Iraqis, Americans and soldiers from other coalition countries, have guarded voters throughout the day.

Few voters were on hand when polling stations opened, but crowds gathered as the day went on, despite a number of suicide bombings and other attempts to disrupt the electoral process.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.