The lull in violence Thursday gave some voters, and some U.S. commanders, the hope that security might be improving and the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency weakening.
But others believed the quiet may instead have represented a politically savvy move by resilient militants, who are increasingly careful to protect their local support, and thus refrained from violence because of Sunni Arab intentions to vote.
Many people noted there also was a lull in violence after elections Jan. 30, but insurgents roared back to action, carrying out a wave of bloody suicide bombings in the spring.
"We hope the security situation will get better, that's why I'm here," Mufrak Saoud Dahid, a Sunni Arab, said after voting in Baqouba, a town in ethnically diverse Diyala province where Iraqi troops have started confronting insurgents without U.S. help.
"If the next government is honest and not corrupt, that will definitely improve security," he added.
CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports that 70 percent of Baghdad is now policed solely by Iraqis with American soldiers nearby, but out of sight a far cry from last January.
But, the insurgency has killed thousands and wounded many others the past 30 months. Car bombs and suicide attacks have spread fear by targeting mosques, churches, police stations, religious pilgrims and funerals. Theft and kidnapping for ransom also are common.
Tens of thousands of well-off Iraqis have moved away, mainly going to neighboring Syria and Jordan to give their families a normal life. Those who cannot afford to go are reluctant to venture from home.
Hussein Ali Abbas, a 66-year-old Shiite wearing a red-and-white Arab headdress, said after casting his ballot in Baghdad that "the first thing we want from the new government is security."
Ahmed Jabbar, 24, who voted for the Iraqi Consensus Front, a Sunni Arab group, said that "God willing, the new government will bring security that we miss today."
And waving a national flag emblazoned with the words "vote for Iraq," Fahd Abdul-Karim, a 55-year-old Kurd, said: "I want safety. I don't want bandits and killers in the streets. We cannot leave our homes now and we want this to end."
A poll earlier this week said that while a majority of Iraqis thought life was improving in the country, a majority still condoned attacks on U.S. soldiers. Thousands of voters at Thursday's polls might simultaneously support insurgent attacks.
Across the Arab world, the Iraq elections have been greatly anticipated The test is not so much the vote, but the result, CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
An off-duty Saudi military officer tells MacVicar through a translator that in Iraq, "The violence is because of the political vacuum. The elections could lead to greater stability."
Areas where the insurgency thrives have been trimmed over the last year, with support drying up in the Shiite south. But the leftover violent swaths of Iraq pose greater challenges for U.S. and Iraqi troops. A handful of explosions Thursday rippled through Baghdad, Mosul and Ramadi, provincial capitals with millions of residents.
The U.S. command says the number of attacks has decreased, but official statistics also point to a sharp rise in deaths over the summer and fall, most recently due to devastating attacks on Shiite civilians.
Still many voters seemed hopeful.
In Baghdad, Wahid Saleh, a Shiite Arab science teacher, and his wife, Wala, were accompanied to their voting station with their son Ali, 8, and daughter Aya, 3. "We want a strong government that can take control of the country and bring prosperity to us," he said.
He said his children woke him up very early so they could go to the polling station and dip their index fingers in the indelible ink used to mark voters' hands to keep people from voting more than once.
"We want a secure future for them," Saleh said as his children grinned while gazing at their stained fingers.