BASRA, Iraq — With an air of practiced efficiency, Iraqis strolled down the potholed, trash-strewn streets of this oil rich city to vote yesterday.
Far from the explosions that marred voting in Baghdad, the mood in Iraq's second largest city was much like the day's weather: bright and full of sunshine.
In the country's fifth exercise in democracy since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, turnout here was pegged at a respectable 60 percent.
"I've got a good feeling that the coming years are going to bring us prosperity and a good life," said Bushra Younes, 33, after casting her ballot and dipping her finger in the iconic ink that has become a symbol of Iraq's fledgling democracy.
The southern city of Basra is something of a microcosm of Iraq, mostly Shiite but with a sizable Sunni minority. It also has a recent violent past, as a battleground for competing Shiite militias. Their reign ended in 2008 when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi army to crush them in an operation known as the Charge of the Knights.
The move earned al-Maliki huge popularity on the streets and a big win in last year's provincial elections, making him the favorite to lead in this race. But he appeared to be facing a tough challenge both from the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition of mostly religious Shiite parties, and, in a surprise showing, the secular Iraqiya slate headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Among those voting for Allawi was Wafa Tariq, 47, who had supported al-Maliki in previous elections but said she had decided it was time for a change.
"You can't understand the oppression we're facing," she said. "There's trash everywhere and we're not seeing any improvements. We don't forget what al-Maliki did in the Charge of the Knights and I salute him for that. But he's very slow. We have hopes for Allawi."