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Iraq Election Officials Report Strong Turn-Out Across the Country

Iraq's democracy took another step forward Thursday as millions of Iraqis ignored the chance of violence to vote for a new parliament. VOA's Jim Bertel reports many Iraqis believe this election gives the country hope for a brighter and more peaceful future.

A stained finger, the mark of democracy shared by millions of voters in Iraq as the nation went to the polls to elect a permanent government to lead the country for the next four years.

Across the nation, amid tight security, Iraqis lined up at polling stations to cast their votes.

Many hope the election will bring peace to Iraq.

Several explosions rocked Baghdad as the polls opened including one near the heavily fortified green zone that injured several people.

But violence overall was light and officials reported high turnouts by voters across the country including a large showing by Sunni Arabs who boycotted Iraq's January election to pick an interim assembly.

Earlier in the week U.S. President George W. Bush described the democratic steps taken by the Iraqi people this year as historic.

"But thanks to the courage of the Iraqi people, the year 2005 will be recorded as a turning point in the history of Iraq, the history of the Middle East and the history of freedom," the president saidd.

Election of the new parliament is the final step in the Iraqi blueprint for democracy following the ratification of the constitution in October. The new parliament will name a government including a prime minister. Final results of Thursday's vote are expected to take days, if not weeks, to determine.