Early Ballots Cast In Iraq

An Iraqi policeman stands guard next to an election campaign poster for the United Iraqi Alliance with pictures of the list's candidates in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday Dec. 11.
The polls open for most Iraqis on Thursday, but early ballots are being cast Monday in hospitals, military camps and prisons, launching the process to choose a new parliament the U.S. hopes can help quell the insurgency.

Tuesday, the estimated one-point-five million Iraqi voters living outside the country can begin casting their ballots over a two-day period at polling centers in 15 countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia.

Iraq will close its borders, extend a nighttime curfew and restrict domestic travel starting Tuesday — two days before the main election day — to prevent insurgents from disrupting the voting.

"We are very prepared for the elections, and we are highly determined," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said. "We hope that everyone participates and that it will be a safe day. ... We are at a historic juncture."

Voters will be choosing their first fully constitutional parliament since the 2003 collapse of Saddam Hussein. The 275-member assembly, which will serve for four years, will then choose a new government that U.S. officials hope can win the confidence of the disaffected Sunni Arab minority — the foundation of the insurgency.

CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports that in January, Sunnis mostly refused to vote in protest over the American crackdown in Fallujah. This time, Sunni leaders want a larger role in government, so they are telling their people to vote.

Top American officials are reaching out, asking what it will take to get them to the polls. Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq,

In other developments:

  • An American soldier was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, the U.S. command said. That brought to at least 2,142 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
  • Starting at midnight Monday, all borders and airports will be closed and travel across provincial boundaries will be banned until Saturday morning. Private vehicles also were expected to be ordered off the street on election day to prevent car bombs.
  • Iraqi and British officials said Sunday they had no word on the fate of four Christian peace activists, more than a day after the expiration of a deadline set by kidnappers to kill them if all prisoners weren't released.

    Although most of the 15 million eligible voters will cast ballots Thursday, soldiers, police, hospital patients and prisoners not yet convicted of crimes can vote Monday starting at 9 a.m. local time.

    Officials said Saddam — who is jailed and facing trial for the deaths of more than 140 Shiites in 1982 — has the right to vote but it was not known whether he would.

    Suspected insurgents held in U.S. or Iraqi detention but who have not been convicted of an offense would also be eligible, Iraqi officials said.

    On Tuesday, the estimated 1.5 million Iraqi voters living outside the country can begin casting their ballots over a two-day period at polling centers in 15 countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia.

    Voters must produce a passport, certificate of citizenship or military service papers and dip an index finger in indelible purple ink to prevent them from voting more than once.

    With security so tenuous, campaigns have been waged primarly through media advertisements, colorful banners and placards on the streets, and press conferences before audiences packed with supporters.

    Most attention has focused on Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the Jan. 30 election to protest the continued U.S. military presence.

    With most Sunni Arabs staying home, Shiites and Kurds won more than 220 of the 275 parliamentary seats — a move that sharpened communal tensions and fueled the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

    This time, more Sunni Arab candidates are in the race, and changes in the election law to allocate most seats by province instead of based on a party's nationwide total all but guaranteed a sizable Sunni bloc in the next assembly.