More violence as Iraqi vote begins

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At least 14 people have been killed in Baghdad on the first day of voting in Iraq's parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, three suicide bombers attacked police and a hospital in Baquba, killing at least 30 people. Reporter Ben Gilbert accompanied an American embasssy election observer team in Kirkuk.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman; this is The World. Early voting started today for Iraq's parliamentary elections. Most Iraqis go to the polls Sunday. Today was a chance for those who work on Sunday, mostly police and the military, to cast their ballots. Unfortunately, the start of voting was met by violence.

WERMAN: At least 17 people died after suicide bombers targeted polling stations in Baghdad today. Violence was widely expected before these elections. Now there's concern that the attacks will keep voter turnout low on Sunday. Ben Gilbert is embedded with the U.S. Embassy Election Observer Team in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and has this report.

BEN GILBERT: Although violent attacks occurred in Baqubah yesterday and Baghdad today, the voting in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk was peaceful, if not always quiet.

GILBERT: That's a patriotic army song blasting from an ambulance near a voting station in Kirkuk. Some thousand soldiers lined up to vote here this afternoon. One of them, 28-year-old First Sergeant Mookdad Salah Alawi says he thought things were going smoothly.

INTERPRETER: The best we can hope for is that the people are safe, and that whoever wins the election deserves to win.

GILBERT: Another voter, Shamal Khader, an employee in a maintenance office on an army base, said the elections were successful and clean.

INTERPRETER: Everything was good, and no one asked me to vote for a list. I was free to vote for the candidates I wanted.

GILBERT: The voting process did appear smooth and orderly at three polling stations. The Voting Manager at this spot said some of the soldiers' names were missing from the voting list, but the problem was being resolved. Similar problems were reported in other voting stations in the country. But generally the voting appeared to go off without a hitch. Up to 800,000 people registered for what's called ?special needs voting' for the infirm, prisoners, police and soldiers. Overall voter registration is near 18 million, up from 13 million in 2005. This Sunday's election results and formation of a new government will be a major indicator for how well Iraq's competing parties will get along. Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari made clear that the elections will likely be a major factor in determining the speed of President Obama's planned withdrawal of remaining American combat troops from Iraq that's slated for September 1st.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: If we succeed, yes, that will be the end of the American presence. If there are setbacks, if there is a deterioration in the security, if there would be people who would challenge the outcome, who would resist, who would resort to violence - no, it would be another story.

GILBERT: Despite the calm, it's still dangerous here. And the U.S. military and State Department still operate with extreme caution.

[SOUNDS OF GUNFIRE]

GILBERT: U.S. soldiers test fired their guns today as they left an American base in Kirkuk. The Army uses heavily armored vehicles to escort U.S. Embassy Observer Teams to polling stations. U.N. and American election observers wore helmets and body armor inside the polling stations. Compared to Baghdad, Kirkuk has always been relatively safe, but it is also an area where both Al Qaeda affiliated insurgents and tensions between political parties, ethnicities and religions could result in violence. American officials warned that as the rest of Iraq has calmed, the tensions in the north between Kurds and Arabs remain the most volatile. They fear disagreements over the status of Kirkuk, which sits atop huge oil reserves, could lead to renewed fighting. For The World, I'm Ben Gilbert in Kirkuk, northern Iraq.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman; this is The World. Early voting started today for Iraq's parliamentary elections. Most Iraqis go to the polls Sunday. Today was a chance for those who work on Sunday, mostly police and the military, to cast their ballots. Unfortunately, the start of voting was met by violence.

WERMAN: At least 17 people died after suicide bombers targeted polling stations in Baghdad today. Violence was widely expected before these elections. Now there's concern that the attacks will keep voter turnout low on Sunday. Ben Gilbert is embedded with the U.S. Embassy Election Observer Team in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and has this report.

BEN GILBERT: Although violent attacks occurred in Baqubah yesterday and Baghdad today, the voting in the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk was peaceful, if not always quiet.

GILBERT: That's a patriotic army song blasting from an ambulance near a voting station in Kirkuk. Some thousand soldiers lined up to vote here this afternoon. One of them, 28-year-old First Sergeant Mookdad Salah Alawi says he thought things were going smoothly.

INTERPRETER: The best we can hope for is that the people are safe, and that whoever wins the election deserves to win.

GILBERT: Another voter, Shamal Khader, an employee in a maintenance office on an army base, said the elections were successful and clean.

INTERPRETER: Everything was good, and no one asked me to vote for a list. I was free to vote for the candidates I wanted.

GILBERT: The voting process did appear smooth and orderly at three polling stations. The Voting Manager at this spot said some of the soldiers' names were missing from the voting list, but the problem was being resolved. Similar problems were reported in other voting stations in the country. But generally the voting appeared to go off without a hitch. Up to 800,000 people registered for what's called ?special needs voting' for the infirm, prisoners, police and soldiers. Overall voter registration is near 18 million, up from 13 million in 2005. This Sunday's election results and formation of a new government will be a major indicator for how well Iraq's competing parties will get along. Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari made clear that the elections will likely be a major factor in determining the speed of President Obama's planned withdrawal of remaining American combat troops from Iraq that's slated for September 1st.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: If we succeed, yes, that will be the end of the American presence. If there are setbacks, if there is a deterioration in the security, if there would be people who would challenge the outcome, who would resist, who would resort to violence - no, it would be another story.

GILBERT: Despite the calm, it's still dangerous here. And the U.S. military and State Department still operate with extreme caution.

[SOUNDS OF GUNFIRE]

GILBERT: U.S. soldiers test fired their guns today as they left an American base in Kirkuk. The Army uses heavily armored vehicles to escort U.S. Embassy Observer Teams to polling stations. U.N. and American election observers wore helmets and body armor inside the polling stations. Compared to Baghdad, Kirkuk has always been relatively safe, but it is also an area where both Al Qaeda affiliated insurgents and tensions between political parties, ethnicities and religions could result in violence. American officials warned that as the rest of Iraq has calmed, the tensions in the north between Kurds and Arabs remain the most volatile. They fear disagreements over the status of Kirkuk, which sits atop huge oil reserves, could lead to renewed fighting. For The World, I'm Ben Gilbert in Kirkuk, northern Iraq.