[JURIST] Iraqi voters turned out in their millions Sunday, braving threats of a bloodbath at the polls to cast their ballots in the first democratic elections in the country in more than half a century. One official with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq [official website] estimated a nationwide turnout of over 72% of eligible voters, and other observers noted higher-than-expected turnouts in trouble spots like Fallujah and Mosul despite especially slow starts there. From Baghdad, one Iraqi described his voting experience [weblog post]; another told how he had cast his ballot [weblog post]. No breakdown of Shia, Sunni and Kurd participation has as yet been provided, and it is unclear whether a threatened Sunni boycott [AFP report] of the polls materialized. There was violence however, with some 36 people killed by midday in suicide bombings and attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere. Baghdad-based American freelancer Christopher Allbriton reported on a number of early attacks [weblog post] in his vicinity.
Preliminary results of the Iraqi poll may be known as early as tonight, but full final results may not be available for a week to ten days. Out-of-country voting [Iraq OCV official website] is continuing today as well. AP offers this report; Reuters has more; BBC News offers a video report.
9:02 AM ET – The polls have now closed in Iraq, although election commission officials say according to AP that anyone still in line will be allowed to vote.
11:03 AM ET – The International Organization for Migration, the body responsible for co-ordinating the Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Program, said Sunday that 2/3 of expatriate Iraqis who had registered had voted on the first two days of out-of-country polling. View the latest Iraq OCV Program TV ad in English [MP3]. VOA has more. Some observers expect that the high turnout in Iraq may stimulate high turnout abroad on the last day of the OCV vote. Meanwhile, as evening progresses in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, more Iraq-based English-speaking webloggers are posting generally-triumphal personal accounts of their visits to the polls [weblog post] earlier today.
12:59 PM ET – Iraq webloggers have filed additional reports on voting in Baghdad and Mosul, noting increased turnout in the latter towards the end of the day. In a blog report from Najaf, a local human rights official has claimed that the provincial governor breached Iraq's electoral law by using government resources to promote his own party list, although electoral officials did nothing to stop him. A late report by an engineering student in Baghdad who did not vote and who had previously derided the election as "theatre" has meanwhile cast doubt on the 72% turnout figure [weblog post] cited earlier by an Iraqi election official, noting he based the estimation on nothing more scientific than local polling center chiefs' estimates of the "the length of the line of the voters as he saw it."
1:15 PM ET – In a brief televised statement [official text] from the White House, President Bush has congratulated Iraqis and called the election "the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East." The State Department has posted photos of Iraqi voters and voting provided by the US Embassy in Baghdad [official website].