Iraqi voters undaunted by attacks that killed 36
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Iraqis defied insurgents who lobbed hand grenades at voters and bombed a polling station Sunday in an attempt to intimidate those taking part in elections that will determine whether their country can overcome deep sectarian divides as U.S. forces prepare to leave. The conclusion of the vote, however, did not spell an immediate end to political uncertainty. It could be days until results come in, and with the fractured nature of Iraqi politics, it could take months to form a government. Sunnis and Shiites seemed united in one way Sunday — defiance in the face of violence. Many came out of polling booths waving fingers dipped in purple ink in a now-iconic image synonymous with Iraq's democracy. In one Baghdad neighborhood, relatives who had just lost a family member in a bombing walked down to the polling booth to vote. The violence was a direct challenge to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who has gained popularity as violence across the country has plummeted. "I voted for Nouri al-Maliki because I trust him as a man who succeeded in getting rid of militias and building a strong state," said Saadi Mahdi, a 43-year old engineer in the southern oil city of Basra. It was there that al-Maliki first established himself as a leader willing to go against his fellow Shiites when he routed militias aligned with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It was an election day that demonstrated starkly how far the country, a rare democracy in the Middle East, has come since the last nationwide parliamentary vote in December 2005 and how much still holds it back. Instead of unified sectarian parties playing strictly to their Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish voters, the political blocs contesting the election were much more fractured and made at least some effort to cross over into other sects. Whereas only party names were known in the 2005 ballot — in order to protect candidates from assassination — this time cities were plastered with candidates' faces on posters as Iraqis voted for individual people.