Just ahead of the first free balloting in Iraq in half a century, the nation battened down for the vote, imposing a 7 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew and closing Baghdad International Airport. Five U.S. soldiers were killed in the capital and insurgents blasted polling stations across the country.
The curfew will remain in effect through Monday and the nation's borders will be sealed for the election period. Medical teams are on alert and nationwide restrictions on traffic will be imposed from Saturday to Monday to try and deter car bombs.
The surveillance and patrols are part of a massive effort to throw the insurgents off-stride, reports CBS News Anchor Dan Rather in Baghdad. But the curfew couldn't keep
In hopes of discouraging Iraqis from voting in Sunday's election — 21 months after Saddam Hussein's downfall in April 2003 — insurgents have accelerated attacks, sending a message that if Iraqis suffer deaths and injuries on election day, "you have only yourselves to blame."
About 300,000 Iraqi, American and other multinational troops and police will provide security for the voting at 5,300 polling centers.
Voters will choose a 275-member National Assembly and governing councils in the 18 provinces. Voters in the Kurdish-ruled area will choose a new regional parliament.
CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that for weeks,
In other developments:
Expatriate Iraqis began casting ballots amid tight security in early voting in 14 countries from Australia to Sweden to the United States.
There were few election posters or banners Friday but plenty of graffiti promising death to voters in Youssifiyah, a heavily Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad, where nostalgia for Saddam endures and hostility toward the United States is widespread.
Majority Shiites, who make up an estimated 60 percent of the population, are expected to turn out in large numbers Sunday, as are the Kurds. Iraqis will choose from among 111 lists of candidates for the National Assembly, rather than voting for individuals, and the ticket endorsed by the Shiite clerical hierarchy is expected to fare best.
Here and elsewhere in Sunni strongholds, however, insurgents do not have to do much to persuade people to boycott the election. Many Sunni Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the population, believe Sunday's balloting will be tainted by the American occupation and Iranian meddling.
Many plan to stay home, threatening the legitimacy of the vote.
U.S. officials say security concerns — rather than political convictions — will largely determine who comes out to vote.
In Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte insisted some Sunni Arabs will turn out to vote.
"Sunnis don't only live in some of these beleaguered provinces, they live here in Baghdad, they live in other parts of the country," Negroponte said on CBS' "The Early Show." "I think you're going to see participation across the board."
At the United Nations in New York, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "everything has been set in place for a valid election process."
"We're in the middle of a process that will eventually, we hope, produce a democratic system of government, coming out of an autocratic system under Saddam Hussein," spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
A Western election adviser in Baghdad said Sunni turnout could be as high as 50 percent if election day violence is low and if the boycott call is not heeded. But it could also be as low as 15 percent, the adviser said on condition of anonymity.
"We applaud the courage of ordinary Iraqis for their refusal to surrender their future to these killers," U.S. President George W. Bush said in Washington.