|A man casts his vote at a polling station in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, April 30, 2014. Iraqis began to cast their ballots Wednesday morning in the parliamentary elections, the first since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country by the end of 2011. (Xinhua/Yaser Jawad)
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BAGHDAD, April 30 (Xinhua) -- With deadly attacks targeting polling centers and violence increasingly sweeping the Iraqi cities, millions of Iraqis voted Wednesday in their first national elections since the withdrawal of U.S. troops more than two years ago.
The polls kicked off at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and closed at 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT), during these hours insurgents attacked many polling centers across the country, leaving a total of 22 people dead and 62 others wounded, mostly security members and voters who defiantly headed to cast their votes with the hope of bringing better life for their families.
In one attack, up to four people were killed and 18 others wounded when a suicide bomber blew up his explosive vest at the entrance of a polling center in the city of Baiji, some 220 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a local police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
In Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a roadside bomb detonated outside a polling center in the city of Maqdadiyah, some 100 km northeast of Baghdad, leaving three people dead and seven others wounded, a provincial police source anonymously told Xinhua.
Also in the province, a roadside bomb went off near three brothers while they were returning from voting at a polling center at a village near the city of Udhiem in north of the provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad, leaving two of them dead and another wounded, the source said.
Separately, seven roadside bombs went off near several polling centers in the town of Dibis, some 45 km northwest of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding two army officers and a soldier, a local police source said.
In addition, a policeman and a child were wounded in a roadside blast outside another polling center in the city of Tuz-Khurmato, some 200 km north of Baghdad, a police source said.
In Mosul, a total of five people were wounded in three roadside bomb attacks near polling centers in the city, some 400 km north of Baghdad, a police source said.
In the meantime, Iraqi security forces clashed with gunmen who were trying to attack a polling center in the town of Hadhar, some 80 km south of Mosul, and killed three of them, a police source said.
Another roadside bomb went off near a polling center in Ishaqi area, some 100 km north of Baghdad, wounding four policemen guarding the center. Minutes later another roadside bomb detonated when the reinforcement troops arrived at the scene, killing a police officer and two policemen, the police said.
In Anbar province, two mortar rounds landed on a polling center in the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, leaving three civilians killed and five others wounded, a provincial police source told Xinhua.
Separately, two civilians were killed and 15 others wounded by artillery and mortar shelling on several neighborhoods in the besieged city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, a medical source from the city hospital told Xinhua.
Wednesday attacks came as hundreds of thousands of troops and police were deployed in Iraqi cities to protect the first nationwide balloting since the 2011 U.S. pullout.
The streets in Baghdad were almost empty and most of the shops were closed due to traffic ban and the spread of dozens of checkpoints which search identification cards and people especially near the polling centers.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who cast his vote at a polling center in Rasheed Hotel in the heavily fortified Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, described the polls as a great success for Iraq despite the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in 2011.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time, and the vote counting process has begun.
Despite the attacks, the country's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said that a preliminary estimate showed that Iraqi voters made about 60 percent turnout when more than 12 million eligible voters out of over 20 million fanned out to polling centers across the country on Wednesday.
In Iraq's nationwide elections, over 21 million Iraqis are eligible to vote for more than 9,000 candidates from nearly 280 political entities who are vying for the 328 seats on offer.