| A boy along with his mother being scanned before they enter a polling station in Az Zubayr, southern Iraq. (AP)
Baghdad, Jan. 30 (Reuters): Some came on crutches, others walked for miles then struggled to read the ballot, but across most of Iraq millions turned out to vote today.
Many cheered with joy at their first chance to cast a free vote, while others shared chocolates with fellow voters.
Even in Falluja, the Sunni city west of Baghdad that was a militant stronghold until a US assault in November, a steady stream of people turned out, confounding expectations. Lines of veiled women clutching their papers waited in line to vote.
'We want to be like other Iraqis, we don't want to always be in opposition,' said Ahmed Jassim, smiling after he voted.
In Baquba, a rebellious city northeast of Baghdad, spirited crowds clapped and danced at one voting station. In Mosul, scene of some of the worst insurgent attacks in recent months, US and local officials said turnout was surprisingly high.
That said, there were also areas of the Sunni heartland where turnout was scarce and intimidation appeared to have won.
One of the first to vote was President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni Arab with a large tribal following, who cast his ballot inside Baghdad's fortress-like Green Zone.
'Thanks be to God,' he told reporters, emerging from the booth with his right index finger stained with bright blue ink to show he had voted. 'I hope everyone will go out and vote.'
In the relatively secure Kurdish north, people flowed steadily to the polls. One illiterate man in Arbil, 76-year-old Said Rasool, came alone and was turned away, unable to read the ballot paper. He said he would return with someone to help.
Even in the so-called 'triangle of death', a hotbed of Sunni insurgency south of Baghdad, turnout was solid, officials said.
In mainly Shia Basra, Iraq's second biggest city, hundreds queued patiently to vote. 'I am not afraid,' said Samir Khalil Ibrahim. 'This is like a festival for all Iraqis.'
A small group cheered in Baghdad as Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a descendant of Iraq's last king, went to the polls.
Western Baghdad polling stations were busy, with long queues of voters. Most went about the process routinely, filling in their ballots and leaving quickly without much emotion.
Others brought chocolates for those waiting in line, and shared festive juice drinks inside the voting station.
In Sadr City, a poor Shia neighbourhood of northeast Baghdad, thick lines of voters turned out, women in black abaya robes in one line, men in another.
Some of the first to vote countrywide were policemen, out in force to protect polling centres from attack, part of draconian security measures put in place by US and Iraqi officials.
In Samarra, a restive Sunni-Shia city north of Baghdad, only about 100 people voted at one of two polling sites. One woman, covered head-to-toe in black robes, kept her face concealed, but said she had voted with pride.
In nearby Baiji, some people were unable to vote because electoral officials failed to turn up. 'We are waiting for the manager with the key,' said an election worker, apologising.
In the shrine city of Najaf in the Shia heartland, hundreds of people walked calmly to polling stations. Security around Najaf, attacked before, was some of the tightest.
Shias, who make up 60 per cent of Iraq's people, are expected to win the vote, overturning years of oppression.
By the end of the day in Baghdad, voters were running to polling stations to get there before polls closed at 5 pm. (1400 GMT). Some old women were pulled along by young sons.
One of the biggest surprises was Mosul, a mixed Sunni, Arab and Kurd city in the far north, where US army officers said they were surprised to see long lines at many voting centres.
A timeline of attacks in Iraq on polling day
7 am (0400 GMT): Polling begins
8.18 am: Suicide car bomber kills a policeman at a checkpoint near polling station in west Baghdad
8.54 am: Blast hits voting station in central Basra, no word on casualties
9.32 am: Mortar attack kills one person near Hilla, south of Baghdad
10.04 am: Mortars land near several Baghdad polling stations, killing two and wounding many people
10.06 am: Suicide bomber blows himself up in queue of voters outside west Baghdad polling station, causing several casualties
10.07 am: Suicide bomber kills at least four people at polling station in Baghdad’s Sadr City
10.54 am: Suicide bomber kills at least four people and wounds nine at polling centre in western Baghdad
11.15 am: Suicide bomber kills at least one person and wounds four at polling centre in western Baghdad
11.55 am: Suicide bomber kills one person and wounds 16 at Baghdad polling centre
12.10 pm: Suicide bomber kills at least six people in queue outside polling station in eastern Baghdad
12.41 pm: US Marine is killed in action in volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad
12.47 pm: Suicide bomber kills two policemen in Baghdad
1.06 pm: Suicide car bomb explodes outside Baghdad house owned by justice minister Malik al-Hassan, who was out at the time
4.25 pm: Suicide bomber kills three and wounds 13 on a minibus carrying Iraqis to vote in a town south of Baghdad