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Arraf: Iraqis have dreamed of this day

CNN correspondent Jane Arraf
• Top story:  Iraqis vote amid violence

BAQUBA, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqis went to the polls Sunday to vote in the first free election the country has seen in a half-century. Jane Arraf was at a polling center in Baquba.

BLITZER: CNN's Jane Arraf witnessed the action in the town of Baquba. She's joining us now live via videophone from there.

And Jane, you can remember -- as our longtime reporter on the scene in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era -- I believe there was one referendum, one election, that he staged, where he got 100 percent of the vote.

You remember those days in marked contrast to what's happening right now.

ARRAF: I remember them very vividly, Wolf. And I remember very vividly people going into those schools, perhaps even some of the same schools that are being used today, and signing their name in blood as a sign of their devotion to Saddam Hussein. That was never billed as an election, but it was billed, obviously, as a referendum, and it wasn't true. It was in most cases false.

This, for all of its faults, for all of its chaos, for all of the things that went wrong, that didn't go as planned, was very, very real, Wolf.

We had people file in front of us who have said, and I believe them, that they had been dreaming of this day all of their lives. This meant so much to them that they braved the threat -- braved threats from insurgents -- to come out early in the morning until late in the evening, dip their fingers in ink, marking them for days as people who had voted, to sign their marks on a ballot to say that they had a say in the future of Iraq. It was absolutely extraordinary.

And here behind us, Wolf, I have to mention, we're actually seeing the ballots coming in, ballots coming in from all over Baquba in these big plastic boxes. They've been sealed. They'll be collected here, and they will be counted.

Unofficial tally has the vote at perhaps about 30 percent. Now, the official electoral commission will likely say it's much higher, but even 30 percent, some officials say, is really quite impressive for these kind of conditions in this kind of town.

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