Iraqis vote in large numbers

Obama hails a "milestone" for Iraq, as people vote despite bomb and mortar attacks.

Iraqis voted yesterday in large numbers, despite mortar attacks, and expectations of low turn out.

Up to 70 per cent of registered voters in Baghdad are thought to have cast ballots in the election, despite the biggest upsurge of violence in more than two years.

Two buildings were destroyed in Baghdad, with other attacks in Mosul, Falluja, Baquba and Samarra. At least 36 people were killed, and many more wounded.

The determination to vote, despite bomb and mortar attacks, is seen as a defiant attempt to rid the country of the political stalemate in which it has been mired since the 2005 election, and the American occupation.

The US president, Barack Obama, repeated his pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq by the end of August, and all other troops by the end of 2011. He said: "Today's voting makes it clear that the future of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq.

"Today, in the face of violence from those who would only destroy, Iraqis took a step forward in the hard work of building up their country."

Turnout was also high outside the capital, with more than 50 per cent of voters turning up in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, a direct contrast to their mass boycott of the 2005 election.

A huge security operation was in place during the poll, with more than 500,000 Iraqi security personnel involved. Thousands of troops were deployed, vehicles were banned from roads, and the border with Iran was closed.