CAIRO - Ballot counting began immediately at polling stations across Iraq after voting ended Wednesday. Electoral officials say more than 50 percent of registered voters turned out, despite a series of election day attacks that left at least 12 dead.
The head of the polling station in Baghdad's Karrada district describes the process of sorting and counting ballots. Electronic equipment to scan registered voters shut down automatically at the same moment at polling stations across the country.
Observers from the Arab League and the European Union were present in most polling stations, along with observers from local non-governmental organizations. It was the first parliamentary election in Iraq since 2010, and the first since U.S. troops withdrew in December 2011.
Despite sectarian violence and tensions between Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite communities, voting took place normally in most parts of the country except predominantly Sunni Anbar province, parts of which are under control of Sunni insurgents.
A European Union monitor describing voting for Iraqi state TV says things were peaceful and everything went normally. He points out that it was the first time electronic scanners were used and that an electronic recount will take place Thursday in another first.
At many polling stations, more than 50 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, according to an electoral commission member in Babil Province.
He says voting was almost like a wedding festival. He says 42 percent of electors had voted by noon and over 55 percent had turned out by closing time.
Baghdad security chief Sa'ad Ma'an indicated earlier that voting was going smoothly in most places, despite a failed suicide bomb attack in Mosul. Five soldiers were wounded in another suicide attack and militants blew up a polling station north of Baghdad. Mortar rounds were also reported in numerous places.
In the days before the elections, bomb attacks and other violence claimed more than 65 lives.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who voted early in the day at Baghdad's Rasheed Hotel, had urged Iraqis to turn out in large numbers.
He says those who vote will have the right to criticize and ask for accountability, while those who do not throw away that right. He says that by voting, Iraqis can defeat terrorism and those who want the elections to be a failure.
Iraq's former national security adviser Dr. Mowaffak al Rubaie, who is a candidate in the prime minister's Shi'ite-led “State of Law” coalition, told VOA he is optimistic.
"I have already voted with the prime minister, Prime Minister Maliki, together, and we are very upbeat to be quite honest with you," he said. "I think we're going to break a record again ... of civilians going to polling stations with unprecedented percentage."
Describing the electoral atmosphere in the capital as festive, Rubaie says, "I am proud of the Iraqi people. They are going in millions to the polling stations. They are parading towards the polling stations. They are very, very happy. Baghdad is all colorful, now, and I think they are going to cast their votes and they are going to vote overwhelmingly in support of [ Maliki's] "State of the Law” [coalition].”
No matter the outcome, Parliament Speaker Osama Nujeifi told Al Arabiya TV that his coalition had “no intention of forming any alliance” with Maliki, because of what he called “prior negative experiences with the prime minister.”
During the 2010 elections, Maliki's party won 89 seats in Iraq's 338 member parliament, while his main opponent, Iyad Allawi won 91. But Maliki formed the government after a series of electoral alliances in his favor.