Purchased at the cost of some 1,400 American lives and those of countless countrymen, millions of Iraqis today participated in their country’s first democratic election in more than 50 years.

Although at least 35 Iraqis, plus 8 suicide bombers, died in election-day terror attacks around the nation, the election was also marked in some polling places by dancing and singing.

“What we’re seeing here is the voice of freedom,” commented Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on ABC’s “This Week.” “Every indication is that the election in Iraq is going better than expected.”

Voter turnout, at first estimated at 72 percent by Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, was later pegged at approximately 60 percent of eligible voters – around 8 million Iraqis.

Iraqi terror kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi reportedly claim responsibility for the election-day bombings and mortar strikes on polling stations. Some 300,000 Iraqi and American troops – including rooftop sharpshooters – provided security, while private cars were virtually banned from the streets. The suicide bombings that killed several dozen Iraqis were carried out by terrorists who had attached explosives to their bodies.

Iraqi officials were very upbeat, with Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi calling it “the first time the Iraqis will determine their destiny,” according to the Associated Press. National Assembly candidate Ahmad Chalabi said, “We have defeated the terrorists today – the winds of freedom are sweeping across Iraq,” in a Fox News report.

According to a Reuters report, 32-year-old Samir Hassan, who lost his leg in an October car-bomb blast, was determined to vote. “I would have crawled here if I had to,” he told the wire service. “I don’t want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace,” he said, leaning on his metal crutches.

In Najaf, where security was especially high, Jaida Hamza, wearing a black Islamic veil, told Reuters: “This is a wedding for all Iraqis. I congratulate all Iraqis on their newfound freedom and democracy.”

Today’s election will result in the seating of democratically chosen representatives in a 275-member National Assembly as well as 18 provincial legislatures. The assembly will draft Iraq’s permanent constitution and choose the nation’s president and two deputy presidents, who will then choose a prime minister and Cabinet until new elections are held in 11 months.

With Iraqis prohibited from driving cars today as a security measure, long lines of voters formed at polling places, with most walking to the polls, although some managed to hitch rides on military buses and trucks.

Rumors of election-day terror attacks had been building for days, and certain “pockets” of the country were deserted. But in most areas voters turned out in droves for the historic election. When a loud boom sounded near a Baghdad voting station, reports Fox, some women whispered prayers, while others continued to walk calmly to the polling place, some shouting in unison: “We have no fear.”

At least one Baghdad polling station saw soldiers and voters dancing together, while in another, voters jumped and clapped in celebration, said the Fox report.

The election’s final results will not be known at least seven days, although a preliminary outcome could come in the next day.

Alaa al-Tamimi summed up the sentiments of many Iraqis today in a Reuters report: “I cannot describe what I am seeing. It is incredible. This is a vote for the future, for the children, for the rule of law, for humanity, for love.”

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