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The scene from polls around the country

In the northern city of Sulaimaniyah, many Kurdish voters said their race was entitled to an independent state. Some said they wanted a state now, while others endorsed an active Kurdish presence in the new Iraq.

"This will be the first time and last time I vote if I feel the newly elected officials in Kurdistan do not make reform and eradicate corruption. What I want from the Kurdish politicians is to work with the Arabs in the south and maintain the Kurds' rights," said Dana Amin, 31, a technician.

"I want to stay within the Iraqi state for now, but in the future we will call for independence. Today, the neighboring countries are opposing our independence, and we do not have international support," said Chiman Karim, 36, a nurse.

_Saeed Omar

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In Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, many voters came to the polls for the first time, having boycotted two earlier elections this year. While most supported Sunni Muslim slates, others said Iraq wouldn't thrive under sectarianism, and chose secular slates. Tikrit is one of a handful of provinces in which the minority Sunnis hope to pick up seats in the new parliament.

"I voted for the Liberation and Reconciliation slate because it calls for the unity of Iraq, and is not sectarian," said Amir Ahmad al-Jubouri, 36, who's unemployed. "It also calls for the return of the former army and those Baathists (members of Saddam Hussein's party) who were unfairly kicked out of the government. They will improve the security situation."

"I voted for (former Prime Minister) Ayad Allawi because I think he is the person who raised our standard of living. He is a strong leader. ... I don't think the election is going to improve the security situation as long as there are armed groups and militias," said Mayada Muhi Suod, a 32-year-old housewife.

_Hassan al Jubouri

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In Sadr City, a densely populated slum in Baghdad, voters largely supported the Shiite Muslim-dominated United Iraqi Alliance slate, after cleric, firebrand and Sadr City leader Muqtada al-Sadr joined the alliance. But other voters considered more secular slates.

Ali Nasser, 43, said he voted for the United Iraqi Alliance because "it includes national figures known for their honesty and fairness. They are keen on serving Iraq and its people."

"I voted for the United Iraqi Alliance because it represents the Shiites, the persecuted and oppressed people," said Abu Radhi, 82.

"I voted for Allawi's slate because he was known for supporting the teachers when he was prime minister," said Ibtihal Kadhim, 30, who's a teacher.

_Ahmed Mukhtar

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In the Sunni-dominated city of Fallujah, many residents came to the polls only after some insurgent groups endorsed participation. Voters were nearly universal in their support for Sunni slates. Some charged that election workers in Baghdad purposely didn't provide them with enough ballots.

"This election will determine our destiny. If we don't participate, the next four years will be the same as now. The Sunnis will be oppressed, and if that happens our lives will be hell," said Abdula Abdul Rahman, 34, an engineering professor.

"We ran out of ballot papers at 9:30 a.m. and I have voters waiting to vote," said Salam Ahmed, an elections official in northern Fallujah. "People are angry. They are saying this is a conspiracy to stop us from voting."

"It is the first time that people here have voted since the occupation, and there really is wide participation. I am really happy," said Ehab Ismaee, another elections official.

_Mohammed al Dulaimy

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In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, many voters chose the United Iraqi Alliance, calling Thursday the fulfillment of their destiny as Iraq's majority sect after the oppression of Saddam's Sunni-dominated government.

"We never had this," said Abbas Yahya, standing with his children after the vote. "We watched this in the movies. Now it's real."

"This violence must end. It's a phenomenon of killing day after day," said Adnan Youssef, 50, as he walked to the polls.

"It's our duty as Iraqi citizens. It's in the Islamic laws. ... It's our destiny," said Jenan Jassim, who's 35. "We are Shiite and the coalition (United Iraqi Alliance) represents us. This is our victory."

"It's a celebration. ... We want this new government to see the big picture and cross over the bridge of chaos," said Sayed Mehdi al-Hakim. His wife, Afrah, held their 5-month-old daughter so she could dip her finger in the ink.

_Leila Fadel

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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