It's now just a matter of hours until the polls open in Iraq. Already during the past week there has been enormous, joyous and enthusiastic turnout among ex-patriot Iraqis all over the world. Hundreds of thousands turned out to vote in the first free Iraqi election in half a century. Voting went smoothely almost everywhere, except for one incident in Australia where Islamic extremists turned out to protest the election and were attacked by offended Iraqi voters. For a great set of photos of celbratory voters check out the photo montrage at The Washington Post.
Voting in Iraq itself obviously won't be as trouble free as it has been for those living outside the troubled country. A free election is the greatest possible threat to the would-be tyrants and fundamentalist extremists who want to take over the country through violence. Iraqi Security forces and the Coalition Military are taking every possible security measure to protect the polling places to the extent of deploying almost 300,000 troops and police, barricading streets and creating protected waiting areas outside of the polls. This may make voting somewhat intimidating and inconvenient, but safety is the first priority.
In the more stable regions of the country such as the Kurdish areas in the north and the large city of Basra in the south little violence is expected. Voter turnout will be large and enthusiastic and no one is going to tolerate attempts to disrupt the election. Local militias are expected to augment police forces and help escort voters to the polls. A turnout of 80% or higher is a reasonable expectation.
In the middle part of the country, in the 'Sunni Triangle' and Baghdad, things are much more tense. This is where the most troops are concentrated and the most extreme measures are being taken to protect voters. Voters in Baghdad will have to reach the polls on foot because barricades set up to prevent attacks on the polls and car-bombs also block peaceful traffic. Once they get close to polling locations they will be surrounded by protective barricades and lots and lots of troops which will hopefully be sufficient to deter violence. Car bombing polling locations once the election has started will be nearly impossible and the largest danger is likely to be from relatively innacurate rocket attacks. or attacks on groups of voters before they get to the polls.