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Voting In The 'Triangle Of Death'

CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick is reporting from one of Iraq's most dangerous areas, Babil province.



South of Baghdad, in north Babil province - part of Iraq's "triangle of death" where the struggle with rebels has been particularly fierce - the scene that Election Day has brought to the streets is striking.

CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick reports the steady stream of voters filling the streets in Mussyiib at first glance seems and feels very festive - like a public holiday.

With roads closed to civilian vehicles as a security measure to make things harder for would-be suicide bombers, families - including very large numbers of women, usually not seen on the streets in such force - are out walking, happy and smiling on their way to the polls.

Many in this predominantly Shiia town have their children with them as they partake in this historic vote, despite the threats and real violence: there was a mortar attack Sunday morning after the polls opened and police were the target of small arms fire.

"I am very proud because this is the first time for the Iraqi people to express their opinions and the first step to a real democracy," said Lt. Col. Ali Zahawi Bress, an Iraqi police commander in Mussyiib, adding that the number of women who have turned out to vote is "unbelievable."

"The people are very excited to go to the election centers and vote. There are large numbers and no one expected that," says Bress. "Even when the mortars were fired, people were excited to vote and didn't care about that, that didn't stop them."

Heavy security for the election includes Iraqi police manning polling stations from the rooftops and Iraqi commandos and SWAT teams acting as quick reaction forces. The roads are patrolled by U.S. forces in vehicles and on foot - along with the Iraqi National Guard. U.S. forces are also patrolling both the water, in boats on the Euphrates River, and the skies - with fighter jets, helicopters and unmanned aircraft.

The manpower paid off in Mussyiib, where three explosive devices were found in trash cans before they went off - and were instead removed and detonated. Similarly, in Mussyiib and Askandariyah, U.S. Marine patrols were able to spot and dismantle several rockets that had been set up by insurgents and left unmanned, ready to be launched by time-release devices.

No one knows how to vote, since these are the first free elections for Iraq in half a century, so in Mussyiib, there are posters on the walls instructing voters in Arabic and Kurdish to "choose the name you want and put a check next to it."

Elsewhere in Babil province, 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 in the Sunni-dominated town of Jurf as Sakhr. Jurf as Sakhr has been considered so dangerous that U.S. military officials before Election Day had a difficult time finding Iraqi contractors to deliver bomb barriers. And as Election Day dawned, authorities weren't able to get any polling place workers for that city. Voters there were instead directed to nearby Hamia - where one of the town's two polling places was destroyed Sunday, in what may have been a mortar 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.

Guarding the polling place from the roof of the police station, one Iraqi police commander exhorted his men over the radio, telling them not to be afraid.

Some other Iraqi police officers on the roof, watching the voting, looked over at those who were watching them, gave the thumbs up sign and said, in English: "The new Iraq."

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