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Bombs On Iraq's Election Day

Ninety minutes after voting began in Iraq Sunday, violence including three suicide bombs in Baghdad claimed at least 31 lives, as rebels made good on their threats to disrupt the nation's first free elections in fifty years.

Even so, "steady" voter turnout is reported in many parts of Iraq.

One policeman was killed and nine people were injured in the first suicide blast, in the Dawoudi neighborhood. Another bomber struck the al-Quds school, killing three policeman and one civilian and wounding six other people. The third bomber attacked the Mutamaizen Secondary School in the Mansour district, injuring three policemen.

Also in the Iraqi capital, in the Amel section of the city, two people were killed and three wounded when a mortar round missed a school serving as a polling center and hit a nearby home instead.

And in Khan a-Mahawil - about 40 miles south of Baghdad - a second police officer was killed, in a mortar attack on a polling station.

Explosions were also reported elsewhere in cities including Basra, Baqouba, Mosul and Samarra, and 7 suspects were arrested in a Saturday night rocket attack that killed two Americans at the U.S. embassy.

According to one witness, two mortars hit near the Ministry of Interior on the eastern edge of the Iraqi capital. And there were exchanges of gunfire in the New Baghdad area in the eastern part of the city.

In north Babil province, in the "triangle of death" - so named because it is a stronghold for rebel forces, reports there were several rocket attacks Sunday aimed at polling places and a U.S. military base.

No casualties are reported in those attacks, or in another incident - an explosion of a makeshift device at a school that was being used as a polling site. It left a hole in the floor and election workers were moved to another location.

Despite the attacks, reports McCormick, U.S. military officials say there is steady voter turnout in the region, including in Eskan and Mussyiib, where police early Sunday came under small arms fire attack.

Standing on the roof of the police station in Eskan, south of Baghdad, McCormick observed a steady stream of voters - Sunni and Shia, men and women, young and old, some with their children, and many smiling and shaking hands as they waited their turn to enter one of two classrooms to cast their ballots.

Some of the voters exiting the polling place stopped to talk to neighbors who were still in line, telling them how the balloting works, in what is a totally new experience for all Iraqis.

"This is democracy," said an elderly woman in a black abaya, Karfi Abbasi. She held up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

Guarding the polling place from the roof of the police station, one Iraqi police commander exhorted his men over the radio to not be afraid. Some other officers on the roof, watching the voting, gave the thumbs up sign and said, in English: "The new Iraq."

Iraqi police are manning polling stations from the rooftops; Iraqi commandos and SWAT teams are acting as quick reaction forces as part of an enormous security umbrella for election day. Civilian vehicles have been banned from the roads, which are being patrolled by U.S. forces, who are also on foot patrol - as is the Iraqi National Guard. And U.S. forces are patrolling the water, in boats on the Euphrates River, and the skies - with fighter jets, helicopters and unmanned aircraft.

CBS News Correspondent Charles D'Agata, reporting from Baghdad, says security there is very tight.

"Around 200 yards away from the station," says D'Agata, "we had to leave the car, then no less than five pat-down searches - they even opened my pen. Lots of Iraqi forces, snipers on the roof... We did see U.S. troops, too - nearby, but out of sight. "

The first person to vote in Baghdad Sunday was Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer, who held an Iraqi flag at the polling station as he stood by the ballot boxes and called the election his country's first step "towards joining the free world."

"I'm very proud and happy this morning," al-Yawher told reporters after he voted in the heavily fortified Green Zone. "I congratulate all the Iraqi people and call them to vote for Iraq."

Al-Yawer went through the voting process that thousands will follow nationwide: having his identification checked, then marking two separate ballots. As poll workers watched, he marked two ballots and then dropped them into boxes at the front of a room.

Casting his vote, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called it "the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny." The head of the main Shiite cleric-endorsed ticket, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, told reporters: "God willing, the elections will be good ... Today's voting is very important."

CBS News has reports of higher than expected voter turnout in "safe" areas in the Shiite south and mainly Kurdish north, but "not so good" turnout in Sunni areas, like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra.

It's also been spotty in Baghdad, reports D'Agata, but at one polling station he visited in the capital - in Khadimiya, a mixed Shiite/Sunni neighborhood - people were streaming in, despite explosions and gunfire nearby.

"I don't have a job. I hope the new government will give me a job," said one voter in eastern Baghdad, Rashi Ayash, 50, a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi force. "I voted for the rule of law."

In the heavily Sunni town of Mahmoudiya in the so-called "triangle of death" south of Baghdad, the only cars on the streets were ambulances. Through loudspeakers, they called people to vote, saying: "It is a national duty."

In the city of Kirkuk in the north, buses hired by city officials picked up people walking toward voting centers to get them there more quickly.

In other recent developments:

  • Iraqis living outside the country began voting on Friday; according to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, about 66 percent of Iraq's 186,619 eligible expatriate voters cast their ballots Friday and Saturday. Figures for Sunday are not yet available.
  • West of the capital, in the insurgent bastion of Ramadi, five Iraqis with hands tied behind their backs were found slain Saturday on a city street. One of the bodies was decapitated. Militants accused them of working for the Americans.
  • A suicide bomber killed eight people in the Kurdish city Khanaqin, 70 miles northeast of Baghdad on the Iranian border. Police Col. Mohammed al-Khanaqini said the attacker was wearing an explosives belt and detonated himself outside a police station between a U.S. base and a courthouse.
  • In Basra, hundreds of Iraqi police uniforms are missing and may be in the hands of insurgents to help them slip through checkpoints, according to a report by the British media pool. South of Basra, four police vehicles have been stolen from a prison at Umm Qasr - sparing fears they might be used in suicide attacks.
  • Seven American soldiers were killed Friday in the Baghdad area, including two pilots who died in the crash of their OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter.

    In Baghdad, U.S. military officials say seven suspects in Saturday night's rocket attack on the U.S. embassy were caught after being tracked from the scene of the 7:45 p.m. attack to a house in the southeastern part of the city.

    One civilian and one Navy sailor, both assigned to the Embassy, were killed in the rocket attack, according to a U.S. military official.

    Four Americans were injured - two in the military, one a civilian; the status of the fourth person has yet to be determined.

    The embassy, housed in what used to be Saddam's Republican Palace, has been the target of repeated rocket and mortar attacks, but this is the first time one hit its mark.

    In the northern city of Mosul, rebels distributed leaflets warning people to stay clear of polling stations to avoid getting hurt.

    An electoral commission official in one of the four Sunni provinces where turnout is expected to be light said voting will be "almost impossible" in some cities because of violence. Khalaf Mohammed Salih, a commission spokesman in Salaheddin province, said he expected violence to virtually shut down voting in the provincial towns of Beiji, Dour and Samarra.

    Sunni Muslim extremists have warned Iraqis not to participate in the election, threatening to "wash the streets" in blood. Iraqis are choosing a 275-member National Assembly and provincial councils in Iraq's 18 provinces. Voters in the Kurdish self-ruled area of the north are selecting a new regional parliament.

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