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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Condoleezza Rice; Interview With Adnan Pachachi; Interview With Ahmed Chalabi

Aired January 30, 2005 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes."
We'll be covering every angle of today's historic Iraqi elections over the next several hours, starting in just a few minutes with the new U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: A day of courage and defiance against insurgents in Iraq today. Millions of Iraqis turned out to vote in democratic elections, the first time this has happened in Iraq in some 50 years.

CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is in Baghdad. She's following all of today's development. Christiane is joining us now live.

Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what a day it's been. Broadly speaking, it's the people, 1, and the terrorists, 0, at least for today. It was a triumph of the will, what we witnessed, at least in many of the polling stations where our reporters have been.

We still don't have the full figures for the turnout. We're told that it was low in the Sunni Triangle areas as expected. But where we were here in Baghdad, it was a sight to behold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: This is the day Iraqis thought they would never live to see. For more than half a century, no one has had this simple right.

"I remember elections under Saddam Hussein," says Uday. "When I came to vote, I found my ballot was already checked 'yes.'"

That was then. Today, under unprecedented security, Iraqis flow steadily to cast their first free vote, walking sometimes for miles to the polls. Many in this Karadda neighborhood told us that they heard explosions as they got dressed this morning, but they came anyway.

"We've been waiting for this day for years," says Lena (ph). "These are elections where we can vote with all our hearts."

Her husband Hadi (ph) says, "This is an important step for the future of my family. We haven't had this opportunity before."

Behind me, you can see people being searched before they enter the polling station, and they get searched several times before they can actually cast their ballot.

While we've been here these several hours, we've heard explosions, but only in the distance. While suicide bombers and mortars have caused casualties, not enough to deter the voting.

Iraqi police and soldiers deployed at major intersections face the biggest test of their fledgling force. These troops will not reveal their names or their faces, but they will say they are happy.

"We hope this election will succeed," says this soldier, "and that we'll have a new era of democracy, freedom and security."

AMANPOUR: It's a major milestone for U.S. forces, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, the hard part for us has already taken place. Over the last two weeks, we've been working very closely with both the Iraqi police and the Iraqi National Guard to make sure they're set, hardening all the polling sites, getting barrier material in place for them.

AMANPOUR: These women walked by after voting and raised their hands to Colonel Murray's (ph) men. "We pray for you, we pray for you," this old woman thanks them.

Inside, election workers who have seen their colleagues killed and have endured constant threats in the run-up to this day, they can hardly contain their joy.

"I can't describe it," says Zenab (ph). "I'm extremely happy today. I feel like I'm being reborn. That's how I feel." A new lease on life for them and future generations.

A man comes out and shows us his ink-stained finger and his infant son's, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can't vote. He's too little.

AMANPOUR: But his father tells us this is a badge of pride.

One day, say these parents, their children will read about this in their history books and they'll learn what they were doing here -- what sacrifice, what bravery, what sheer will it took just to cast a ballot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And really, nobody quite expected the turnout to be what it was. We still don't know the figures. Some are saying it was around 50 or 60 percent. But again, we are going to have to wait for that. And we still don't know how it fully broke down along ethnic and religious lines or in various provinces.

But what we saw were people who were energized, people who said that even though they were scared, even though they woke up not quite knowing whether they would go out or not, they did it.

Wolf?

BLITZER: So, Christiane, at least the initial anecdotal reporting that we're getting is that the Iraqi troops who had the front line in the defense of these people who wanted to vote, they seem, at least this is the impression we're getting, they seem to have done the job pretty well.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but I don't think you can underestimate the incredible U.S. presence, as well, and in the south, the British forces. But this has been a massive security operation that has been prepared for many weeks and months.

And basically, the Iraqis were there because it was considered untenable for U.S. forces to be in or near the polling stations. But as commanders here told me, all an Iraqi soldier had to do if he was in trouble was look over his shoulder and call for help. In the end, they didn't need it, not in the places we were, and it seemed to go off as planned.

BLITZER: CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting for us from Baghdad.

Christiane, thank you very much.

Just north of Baghdad, in Baqouba, a U.S. military operation center was attacked shortly after the polls closed. But the threat of violence did not dampen the enthusiasm of voters.

CNN's Jane Arraf is joining have us now live via videophone from Baqouba.

Set the scene up there, Jane. How did it go there?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was absolutely extraordinary.

Now, when we started out at 7 o'clock this morning we went to one polling station where there were no balloting materials whatsoever. There were no election workers.

We went to another where the election workers were expected to come an hour after the polls were officially due to open.

Finally, we did go to a polling site where there was a steady stream of voters, and they were absolutely ecstatic.

We have to remember some of these people have been waiting their entire lives to do something like this, to stand in line despite insurgents, stick their finger in a vat of ink and check the box for someone that they believe could give them a better future in their country.

Now, a lot of Shia turnout, some Sunni turnout. Here in Baqouba, which is in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, it's estimated that perhaps maybe 30 percent of people came out to vote. The official sources are estimating much more. That number is still unclear.

And behind me, Wolf, right now, actual ballot boxes. Because of the threat that they could be seized while on their way to Baghdad, they will be counted in Baqouba by Iraqi election workers.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Things going well in Baqouba as well, relatively speaking. Jane Arraf reporting for us.

Jane, thanks very much.

There was a setback, though, for some coalition forces in Iraq. A British C-130 Hercules transport plane crashed north of Baghdad just a short time ago.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joining us now live with more on this story.

Barbara, what do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this story is still unfolding. There is no final word yet on whether there are survivors or even how many people were on board or what brought the Royal Air Force C-130 down.

But it was shortly after 5 o'clock this afternoon in Iraq when controllers reported that they lost radio contact with this C-130 that was flying from Baghdad north to Balad. Last contact was about 25 miles north of Baghdad. And indeed, they did find widespread wreckage on the ground.

At this hour, search and rescue is still under way. There are helicopters on the scene.

There are ground troops that are securing the area to prevent looting so they can go in, look for any survivors or recover any remains.

The investigation, of course, is under way. They will be looking at several factors. Of course the one of immediate interest was the altitude of the plane. Was it at a level that put it outside the range of a surface-to-air missile? Could hostile fire have been involved? Whether mechanical issues?

No answers to any of this yet. But the search and rescue remains under way at this hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, we don't know how many crew members were aboard the plane in passengers?

STARR: That is correct, Wolf. The British government has not yet released any details of the manifest. This type of C-130 in full configuration could carry nearly 100 troops. It might have been carrying some troops. It might have been just the crew, which would have been a handful of personnel. But no final word from the British government on that at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara Starr, as soon as you get that information, you'll pass it along to our viewers.

Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon.

Today's election posed not only a tough test for Iraqis but for the Bush administration, as well. Just a short time ago, I spoke with the new U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on becoming secretary of state.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Wolf. It's great to be with you.

BLITZER: All right, the polls are now closed in Iraq. What are you hearing, initial reports on the turnout?

RICE: I believe it's going to be quite a while before we know the turnout in the country, because, as you know, in our own country, it takes a while to establish a turnout. What we're hearing from the Iraqis is that they are very pleased because they believe it's better than expected. They believe that there obviously is great enthusiasm by the Iraqi people for this vote.

And what we're seeing, Wolf, is a remarkable day for the Iraqi people. They have turned away the threats and intimidation that Zarqawi and his people leveled directly at the democratic process. And they've decided to go to the polls and vote, because they believe that's the way to a better future. So this is a remarkable day for the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: We all expected that there would be significant turnout among the Kurds in the north, the Shiites -- the majority population of Iraq -- the Sunnis. What are you hearing about Sunni turnout, especially in that so-called "Triangle of Death," or the Sunni Triangle, as they call it.

RICE: Well, of course, we expect, because of the levels of intimidation and violence there, that there may be fewer Sunnis who can turn out. But clearly they want to. And they are voting in places like Fallujah and Baqouba and Samarra. There are people who are voting there, despite the terrible levels of violence and intimidation.

The most important point is, of course, that this is a first step for the Iraqis on this process. They now are going to have to write a constitution. And there have been several statements by Iraqi leaders -- Shia, Kurds, others -- saying that they understand the desire and the need to build one Iraq, that the constitutional process is going to be one in which all Iraqis are represented.

And they understand what we should know: that their Sunni brethren, if they were unable to vote, it was not because they did not want to vote, but because of the intimidation. So I'm sure that they will have a process moving forward that takes account of everyone's interests.

BLITZER: By all accounts, the Shia, who represent 60 population of the population, will have the dominant say. How concerned are you, if you are concerned, that some sort of Islamist clerical regime could emerge out of this election?

RICE: Well, let's remember, first of all, that the Shia have been an oppressed people for decades now. And so, it is a good thing that Shia are turning out and that they are able to vote.

But I've talked with many Iraqis, and they emphasize that this is a society that knows how to overcome differences, that, in fact, Saddam Hussein's regime, with its tyranny, probably exacerbated differences.

The Shia and the leaders of those movements are also saying that Iraqis do not want a theocratic regime. I'm sure that they will have a healthy debate about the role of Islam, about the role of religion in their society.

This is the democratic process, but I fully expect that it is going to be a process that, while it will have its twists and turns, its ups and downs, will come to represent the interest of all Iraqis.

BLITZER: The Shia, as you point out, were suppressed, oppressed during the regime of Saddam Hussein. Some fear this could be payback now by them against the Sunni, which had the dominant role during those decades.

RICE: No, Wolf, they just need to show more faith in the Iraqi people than some are showing. There is no evidence that that's what they intend to do.

In fact, when there have been attacks by Zarqawi and his people against Shia, trying to stir up sectarian violence, he's not been able to do it. The Shia have said, "We're not going to allow that to happen." Sunnis and Kurds have gone to Shia areas that have been attacked to say, "We want one Iraq."

The Iraqis are demonstrating remarkable resolve. They're demonstrating remarkable bravery. They're demonstrating once again that the values of democracy and liberty are universal values. And I hope, given our own history of ups and downs as we moved forward to build our own democracy, that we will show greater faith and confidence in these people who are showing us that they want to get there.

BLITZER: Now, there was an attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad yesterday. Two Americans were killed, one civilian, one military. What else, what can you tell us, how did this happen?

RICE: Well, there obviously will be an investigation of it. It is a very dangerous place, and we know that the insurgents have tried to attack American installations.

We mourn, of course, the deaths of the two people there, and it just reminds us that our military people and our diplomats are taking tremendous risks, that they are putting their lives on the line for the exercise of democracy in support of our security and freedom.

And so, that's what this is a reminder of.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about U.S. troops in Iraq right now. It looks like the security environment for the elections worked relatively well, by all accounts, based on the initial reports we're getting today. But let's talk about what's down the road now that the elections are over.

General George Casey, the U.S. commander on the ground in Iraq, spoke out this week. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY: There's going to be an insurgency here for some years. I mean, that's -- historically, insurgencies just don't come and go overnight. They're there for a while.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How long do you believe U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq?

RICE: General Casey's assessment I totally agree with, that it's going to be a while before the insurgency can be defeated. But, of course, the goal is to get Iraqis into a position that they can defeat the insurgency.

And we've always said that the conditions on the ground will dictate the particular mix of Iraqi forces and coalition forces.

The coalition is there under a U.N. mandate to help the Iraqis because they're not quite capable yet of carrying out their own security functions. But we are concentrating on training those forces.

They had a good day today, the Iraqi security forces. General Casey reports that they've done well. And so, they've done well in support of their own democracy. That's a good sign. BLITZER: How many Iraqi troops are combat-capable right now?

RICE: Well, Wolf, we've trained about 120,000 security personnel, but that includes more than 50,000 police, for instance. And one really never knows how well they're going to fight until they're in the fight.

They had a good fight in Fallujah. They did well. They did well in Najaf. But we know that there are problems with leadership of the Iraqi forces. We know that there have been problems with desertion and absenteeism. We're moving to address those, those problems.

But they've done really well today, and that's a good sign.

BLITZER: A year, two years, three years? When will that 150,000 number, in your estimation, begin to go down?

RICE: I really believe that we should not try and put artificial timetables on this. We need to finish the job. We went into Iraq because our security interests were at stake, not just the region's. And because of that, we need to finish the job.

But there will be a very clear point at which American and coalition forces are stepping back as Iraqis are more capable in their own light. And we just have to get to that point.

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, who voted against your nomination, as you know, says that the U.S. military presence in Iraq now is part of the problem, not the solution, because it's creating this animosity, giving the Iraqis the impression they're an occupied country.

RICE: Well, I see coalition forces sacrificing and giving their lives so that the Iraqi people could have the kind of day that they had today. That's how I see coalition forces. I believe that's the way that many people see coalition forces.

They're there under U.N. mandate. And of course we will work with the new Iraqi government to understand the right combination of our forces, coalition forces and Iraqi forces. But the men and women in uniform of the coalition are heroes in this march forward for democracy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Just ahead, more of my interview with Condoleezza Rice. I'll ask the secretary of state, can the U.S. afford to pay the price for a free and democratic Iraq?

Our special "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States getting ready to speak a little bit more than a half an hour or so from now, at the top of the hour. CNN will have live coverage from the White House. He will speak on the Iraqi elections. Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes."

Now, part two of my interview with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Going into the war -- let's look back a little bit -- did you ever imagine that two years after the war started that you'd be asking for another $80 billion, approaching $300 billion, the cost of this conflict?

RICE: Wolf, the important point is that the president has said that our forces will have what they need to do the job.

And I just want to remind everyone that we did this because American security interests post-9/11 were at stake. And you can't put a price tag on our security.

But I'll tell you what I didn't imagine two years ago, and that is that you would have the kind of day that you've had today. Throughout this region we are starting to see the stirrings of democratic processes in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Palestinian territories.

And we learned a very hard lesson on September 11th, and that was that the status quo in the Middle East is not sustainable. It was producing an ideology of hatred that had people drive airplanes into our buildings. We have to deal with that and build a different kind of Middle East, or we're going to be fighting terrorists long beyond our lifetimes.

And so the costs are worth it. The Iraqis are emerging from their own shadow of terror, and America's going to be safer for it.

BLITZER: Should the American public brace for the number of casualties that we've seen? What, 1,400 Americans, more or less, killed in action, killed over these past two years. Is that going to continue for the foreseeable future?

RICE: I can't predict. And obviously we mourn every death. Unfortunately, nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice.

Our hope is that, as the political process moves forward, as it has begun to move forward today, as Iraqis take more responsibility for their own future, both politically and in security terms, that the insurgency will begin to lose some of its steam. And I think that's a reasonable hope and expectation, but I can't give you a time line on that.

BLITZER: In the interview the president gave the New York Times this week, he said that if the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to withdraw, the U.S. will withdraw.

He said, "Yes, absolutely. This is a sovereign government. They're on their feet. We anticipated that, by the way, on the passing of sovereignty. And had the Allawi government said 'out,' we would have been required to leave."

Do you anticipate the Iraqi government, any new Iraqi government emerging, asking the U.S. to leave?

RICE: Well, America and our forces will stay only where we're wanted. But what we've heard is that the Iraqi government, the current one and the people who are looking to be a part of the next one, understand their own security situation, understand that we're there under U.N. mandate.

We are doing everything we can, and will accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces so that they can take control of their own future.

But the Iraqis have asked for the forces under the U.N. mandate, and I'm sure that as long as they want them, we'll stay. But when they're no longer needed, we'll be very pleased to go home with the mission accomplished.

BLITZER: Is the Syrian government part of the problem or part of the solution, as far as insurgents, foreign fighters, equipment, money pouring into Iraq?

RICE: The Syrians have not been as helpful as they should be, and we've made that very clear, that we believe that there are insurgents and insurgent support networks that have operated out of Syria. And we've asked them to do a number of things to stop that, and we'll be continuing to pressure the Syrians to do exactly that.

BLITZER: When you say pressure, what else are you going to do?

RICE: Well, we have tools. Obviously, the president ordered some sanctions under the Syrian Accountability Act a couple of months ago.

The Syrians do not want to get on a track where they are in a long-term bad relationship with the United States, and so I would hope that they would be more responsive.

BLITZER: You're heading out to the region. You're going to be in Israel. You're going to meet with the Palestinian leadership, the new Palestinian leadership. Any plans on meeting with the Syrians?

RICE: No, I have no such plans.

But I really look forward to getting to Israel and to the Palestinian territories, because the parties themselves are creating conditions in which we probably have new opportunities.

And I'm going out to discuss with them and to talk with them, to work with them, to see what role the United States can play in helping them to move forward.

BLITZER: What about Iran? What's its role in Iraq right now?

RICE: The Iranians have engaged in some activities that we think are unhelpful in Iraq. More importantly, the Iraqis believe that the Iranians have engaged in activities that are unhelpful.

Iran is Iraq's neighbor, and we expect there to be relations between Iran and Iraq. But they need to be transparent, neighborly relations, not relations that are aimed somehow at subverting Iraqi political processes.

And so, this is a discussion that a number of people are having with the Iranians.

BLITZER: I interviewed Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency director-general, this week. He called on the U.S., the Bush administration, to join the Europeans in this dialogue with Iran to deal with the nuclear reactors, the nuclear weapons allegations against Iran.

Is that something that you as secretary of state welcome?

RICE: The Iranians know what they need to do. They know that they cannot be responsible members of the international community and pursue nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear programs, something that is granted under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We've been in close contact with the Europeans as they try the dialogue that they're having with the Iranians to move the Iranians to a position where they live up to their international obligations, and we'll continue to do that.

But it needs to be understood that Iran has not been in compliance with its international obligations. It needs to get there.

BLITZER: One final question: Is this a dream come true for you, to be secretary of state?

RICE: Well, it's certainly a really fantastic opportunity. I can't tell you I ever dreamed that I would be secretary of state when I was growing up in Birmingham, Alabama.

And I'm just very grateful to the president and to the American people and to all of those who think that I can do this job.

And you can bet I'll work really hard, I'll do my very best.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you.

RICE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And congratulations.

RICE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, will the Iraqi majority Shiite population be the big winners in today's elections? We'll talk live with one prominent candidate and former top Bush administration ally, Ahmed Chalabi. He's standing by to join us here on our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

The former Iraqi exiled leader Ahmed Chalabi was once a very close ally of the United States and the first choice of at least some in the Bush administration to lead a post-Saddam Iraq. But the close ties he once had with the U.S. are now largely broken. Still, Ahmed Chalabi was a candidate in today's election.

He is joining us now live from Baghdad on the phone.

Mr. Chalabi, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, what's your reaction to today's turnout, the election in Iraq?

AHMED CHALABI, FORMER MEMBER, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL: The turnout was great. It's a great victory for the Iraqi people. And we were expecting that, of course, our election (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the south and in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I was not surprised at the turnout because the people want to vote. And the terrorists are shown to be in the throes of extinction now.

BLITZER: So, what happens to you now? What position would you like to see -- you're one of the main Shiite lists that supposedly is going to be doing very well. Would you like to be the next prime minister of Iraq?

CHALABI: I would like to be in the assembly. In the case I win, I would like to be in the assembly because I think the assembly is the power center in Iraq. It is the most important power center.

BLITZER: But are you hoping that the assembly, eventually when they have to name a new prime minister, are they hoping that it might be you?

CHALABI: I'm hoping clearly to influence issues in the assembly. The most important thing is the constitution and the status of forces agreement and the security, the finance. All these things are very important, and I expect to be involved in them.

BLITZER: As you know, the interim Iraqi defense minister told Al Jazeera on January 21st this. He said, "We will arrest him," referring to you, "and turn him over to the Interpol. We will arrest him based on facts. He wanted to tarnish the image of the defense ministry. One of those who wants to commit crimes against the Iraqi people is Ahmed Chalabi."

Give us the background. Why has this bitter feud between you and the defense minister erupted the way it has?

CHALABI: I have no feud with the defense minister. All I did was question the correctness of shipping cash, several hundred million dollars in cash, by airplane to Lebanon as a way to settle the differences of the Iraqi government. And I think it's improper. The Iraqi government thought it's improper, because the central bank took steps to return that. But the defense minister went nuts.

BLITZER: He went nuts because you were criticizing the defense ministry.

Do you believe that $300 million or so that was shipped in cash aboard a private chartered plane to Beirut was actually designed to pay for weapons that the Iraqi army needs, or was there another purpose?

CHALABI: I don't know, but I asked to be informed. The Iraqi people should be informed because it is certainly not a proper way to settle commitments of a government by shipping cash outside the country.

Where did the cash go, and whose account did it go? Who has authority to sign this over, this account? How will the methods of payment be? What about the contacts? These things were not revealed. Still they are not revealed.

BLITZER: How do you explain, Mr. Chalabi, that the elections went as smoothly as they did today, given the fears from Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, other insurgents, other terrorists, that they would do whatever they could do to disrupt this election?

CHALABI: The elections went well because the Iraqi people have an overwhelming desire to vote. The unions of people are stronger than the handful of terrorists. And the terrorists threw everything they had into this fray, and they lost.

The will of the Iraqi people, the millions of Iraqis were going to vote created their own security environment, and that was the success story here. And it was not a surprise to me.

BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, what about your relationship with the Bush administration right now? It was once excellent in the weeks, month, years leading up to the war. It's deteriorated, as you know. Do you still speak with top U.S. officials, and if you do, with whom?

CHALABI: No, I don't speak to top U.S. officials. I have not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they have. And I think this was a hostility to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by various U.S. authorities, which is almost nonexistent now. Contacts at the low level have started, and I expect them to continue at this rate.

BLITZER: Are you bitter about the way this has turned out?

CHALABI: Not at all. This is just about normal. I'm not bitter at all. I don't look back. I want to look forward. And my role in Iraq now is in the assembly.

And I believe that the United States has made a great contribution. We thank the American people for making democracy and this election possible in Iraq. And we are grateful to the American young men and women who are risking their lives to give the Iraqi people this chance, this dream of democracy in Iraq now.

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi joining us from Baghdad.

Mr. Chalabi, thank you very much for that.

CHALABI: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll speak live with a Time magazine reporter who is on the ground in Iraq. We'll get his perspective on what has happened today.

More of our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The commission overseeing today's election says voter turnout was as high as perhaps 90 percent in some parts of Baghdad, though it was much less in many other parts of the country.

Joining us now from the Iraqi capital is Time magazine senior correspondent Bobby Ghosh.

Bobby, thanks very much.

Give us your initial impressions after this historic day.

BOBBY GHOSH, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, it was quite amazing to watch. We went into a few polling stations, I have to say, in the predominantly Shia or mixed areas of the city. And what we saw was entire families coming out, people bringing their children to the voting stations to experience this day.

In two years that I have been in Iraq, I haven't seen as many children in the streets as I saw today, as you know. Families here have been very concerned about the safety of their kids. But today they brought their kids out to show them what participating in an election was like. And it was a bit of carnival atmosphere, which was quite amazing to watch.

BLITZER: That was in Baghdad. But kind of reports are you getting from other parts of the country, especially other parts of the so-called Sunni Triangle?

GHOSH: It's a very mixed picture. I think even in the Sunni Triangle, areas where there was surprisingly high voter turnout although there have also been polling stations where, you know, only a handful of people had turned out.

The pictures from around the country are a mixed bag. I think there's a lot of voting in the north, a lot of voting in the south, and surprisingly high voting in Baghdad. But in most of the Sunni Triangle, I think any voting at all would be considered a bonus.

BLITZER: Bobby Ghosh of Time magazine, we'll be checking back with you. Thanks very much for that.

For the U.S. military, weeks of planning and preparation went into countering election day violence, but insurgents still continue, of course, to pose a huge threat.

Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion now. We've got two generals joining us, retired U.S. generals, who are closely involved in watching what's unfolding. In Tampa, Florida, the retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Michael DeLong. Here in Washington, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James Marks. He served as a senior intelligence officer for coalition land forces during the invasion of Iraq. He's a CNN military analyst.

General DeLong, let me start with you. It looks like the training of the Iraqi troops, at least on this one day, worked.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL DELONG (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: Well, I will tell you, the plan that the U.S. military had, the coalition forces had, to have the Iraqi military and police force out there in front, with them backing them and being able to react, was a good move. It had built up the resolve of the Iraqi military and their police forces, and it allowed the Iraqi people to see them there.

I think this was a good move, and it bolstered them. It sort of looked like one of the recommendations that General Luck had going over there, to sort of embed U.S. trainers in with the Iraqis, this may be the start of that now. It looks like it's working.

BLITZER: It sounds like a new strategy, General Marks.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET)., U.S. ARMY: I'll tell you that the fact that the U.S. soldiers and other coalition soldiers are embedded in with the Iraqis is absolutely the way to go. And as General DeLong indicated, I think General Luck made that recommendation. It certainly makes a lot of sense.

BLITZER: When you say embedded with the Iraqis, they're sort of in the background, if you will. The Iraqis are at least the visible part of this, at least when people went to the polls. Is that right?

MARKS: It is. Again, as General DeLong indicated, that there was very much an Iraqi face on the security posture. So that means up close to the polling places, you had Iraqi soldiers, police, National Guard working those challenges.

You had U.S. and other coalition off to the side in very prominent positions, I might add, with the capability to reach back to some incredible capabilities to bring in to help resolve problems if they presented themselves.

BLITZER: So let's talk about the training. This is going to be critical, General DeLong, right now, to get Iraqi troops motivated, prepared. What's the next step, now that elections have taken place?

DELONG: Well, the next step for the Iraqi military, for the Iraqi police force is to, as General Marks said, we've got -- I think we're going to embed some of our troops in with them. That helps the Iraqi military. It helps them when they're moving around. It helps them with their forces. It helps them with their fire power, with their communications capabilities.

Now, the issue becomes, what's going to happen the day after the election? Are we going to have a civil war? Is this the first step? To me, it looks like this is a great day for the world.

Another thing that I think was missed right here is that the Israelis are pulling out of the West Bank, are going to let the Palestinians rule that.

From what I've heard from the senior people over there in the Middle East, if we can either come to a compromise or fix this Palestinian-Israeli situation, this will be the start of the end of terrorism.

BLITZER: Just to clarify on the Israelis in the West Bank, they're not pulling out of the West Bank. There are reports now they're going to pull out of four cities in the West Bank.

DELONG: Four cities.

BLITZER: But it's going to be a long time before the Israelis pull out of the West Bank. But there is progress moving forward on that front, General DeLong. There's no doubt about that.

We've seen a lot of problems, at least in the last few days, with aircraft, General Marks -- helicopters going down, now this British C- 130 transport plane. We don't know if it was weather-related or if it was surface-to-air missiles or what it was, but what kind of capabilities do the insurgents have to bring down aircraft?

MARKS: Well, in both instances that occurred in the last couple of days, the helicopter out west in Anbar province, out by Rutbah, was a sandstorm.

And, oh, by the way, General DeLong is the aviator. He's the guy who can talk in great detail in terms of those technical challenges that would occur.

But what the insurgents have, they certainly have got shoulder- fired weapons. They've got the ability to try to disrupt aircraft as they're on the ground or those very -- the high-risk time of air flight is takeoff and landing. And when they're close to the ground they certainly can interdict. They can interdict with dumb weapons, as well. A lucky shot might take something down...

BLITZER: What's your sense, General DeLong, on the aircraft problem?

DELONG: Well, on the aircraft problem, what I heard -- and first reports are never right, as General Marks knows -- but what happened out there with the Marine helicopter is, it was 1:30 in the morning. They were probably on goggles. A sandstorm which took away what little ambient light they probably did have, and it probably was just a training accident. Could have happened anywhere in the world.

What happened with the British C-130, I don't know. But do the insurgents have the capability? Yes, they do with shoulder-fired weapons. But the tactics being used by the coalition, the U.S. military over there, are doing everything possible to prevent those weapons from being effective.

BLITZER: General DeLong, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

General Marks, thanks to you, as well.

To our viewers, General Michael DeLong has an important book out on the Central Command, recommended reading if you want to know how the U.S. military prepares for operations throughout the Middle East.

Still ahead, what message did today's vote send to insurgents in Iraq? We'll get an assessment from Iraq's national security adviser.

We're also standing by to hear directly from President Bush. Right at the top of the hour, he'll be speaking from the White House, addressing the American people and the world.

You're looking at live pictures on this snowy day in Washington. We're standing by for the presidency, and then we'll have live coverage when our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're standing by momentarily to hear from President Bush. He's been receiving reports from his national security advisor, Stephen Hadley. He's been speaking with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as well, getting reports on the Iraqi elections.

The Iraqi polls are now closed. The election is now over. They're going to begin counting the results.

The president now getting ready from the residence at the White House to address the American people and the world. The president will be walking in, making a brief statement.

You see these live pictures from the White House right now. Here comes the president of the United States. Let's listen in as he speaks about these elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO FEED)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East.

In great numbers and under great risk, Iraqis have shown their commitment to democracy. By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists. They have refused to be intimidated by thugs and assassins.

And they have demonstrated the kind of courage that is always the foundation of self-government. Some Iraqis were killed while exercising their rights as citizens.

We also mourn the American and British military personnel who lost their lives today. Their sacrifices were made in a vital cause of freedom, peace in a troubled region and a more secure future for us all.

The Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success. Brave patriots stepped forth as candidates. Many citizens volunteered as poll-workers. More than 100,000 Iraqi security force personnel guarded polling places and conducted operations against terrorist groups.

One news account told of a voter who had lost a leg in a terror attack last year and went to the polls today despite threats of violence. He said, "I would have crawled here if I had to. I don't want terrorists to kill other Iraqis like they tried to kill me. Today I am voting for peace."

Across Iraq today, men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of freedom and peace.

In this process, Iraqis have had many friends at their side. The European Union and the United Nations gave important assistance in the election process.

The American military and our diplomats, working with our coalition partners, have been skilled and relentless. And their sacrifices have helped to bring Iraqis to this day.

The people of the United States have been patient and resolute, even in difficult days.

The commitment to a free Iraq now goes forward. This historic election begins the process of drafting and ratifying a new constitution, which will be the basis of a fully democratic Iraqi government.

Terrorists and insurgents will continue to wage their war against democracy, and we will support the Iraqi people in their fight against them.

We will continue training Iraqi security forces so this rising democracy can eventually take responsibility for its own security.

There's more distance to travel on the road to democracy, yet Iraqis are proving they are equal to the challenge.

On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Iraq on this great and historic achievement. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO FEED)

BLITZER: A three-and-a-half, almost four-minute statement by the president of the United States, declaring the Iraqi elections today a resounding success, "the voice of freedom," he said, "from the center of the Middle East." The president applauding what has occurred in Iraq today.

Let's go to Iraq right now. Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is on the scene for us. She's been watching all of these developments, the lead-up to the elections and the elections today.

Christiane, tell our viewers what has happened.

AMANPOUR: Well, right now, of course, the polls have closed, and people are counting the votes. They're still locked up in the various polling stations, and they won't be physically moved for a while yet. We're still awaiting that.

But the count is still going on. And from where we were today, which was at a polling station in one of the Baghdad neighborhoods in central Baghdad, we saw a very steady and healthy turnout, people coming in.

The couple of hours at the beginning of polling day were quite slow around the country, but then it picked up, from what we can tell, not just in Baghdad, but in other places where our correspondents are, for instance, in Baqouba and, obviously, in Kurdistan, and certainly we've had reports from the big stronghold of the Shiite group in Najaf, Karbala and Basra, a very heavy turnout there.

Baghdad, we don't quite yet know the full turnout figures. In fact, we don't know the full turnout figures. But we have been told that, for instance, in the Sunni Triangle, the turnout was quite low. We've been told that by stringers that we have and by other witnesses and things there. And, again, we're still waiting for the final results.

But certainly the people we were able to talk to and the ones we saw were simply delighted. This was something they had waited for for a long time, they told us, decades. They really didn't think this moment would come.

They said they came with their children even though they were too young to vote. I saw a young man who had dipped his young child's finger in the ink and told me that this was a badge of pride.

So many people were very, very happy to cast their ballot even despite the fears, despite the intimidation.

And this morning early, as the polls opened, about an hour and a half after the polls opened, there was a wave of explosions, mortar bombs, people with suicide belts strapped to their bodies in Baghdad, about eight or nine of those. And, of course, they did cause casualties but, in general, by far fewer, by far fewer, than anybody had dared to hope for.

People I talked to said that even though they were scared, even though they had heard the explosions and they were getting up and getting ready to get dressed and have breakfast, deciding whether to come out or not, they said that they did decide to do it and to basically confront the fears, confront the terrorists and come out.

One of the election workers told me -- and, of course, these election workers have really had to be almost underground cells. Their members have been threatened, killed, intimidated. One woman told me that the terrorists, she said, tried to sabotage this moment but they couldn't. And she said, for herself, she felt like she had been reborn.

So a lot of very happy people that we were able to see today.

BLITZER: Christiane, when do the curfews, the extraordinary security on the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, when does that go away?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's a three-day lockdown. It started yesterday. It's obviously today, and it will be tomorrow. Everything is locked down. There's no vehicle traffic, nothing in the cities, nothing between provinces. Airspace is locked and shut. Borders are sealed, meant to be sealed anyway. And basically there's no movement.

It really has been a tremendous security operation that has obviously taken weeks and months to plan. Helicopters overhead. At some points today we heard war planes screeching overhead. So it's been a huge operation.

But in general, the curfews will continue. I mean, Iraq is still living under a state of emergency, essentially a form of martial law. And the interim government, just before the election day, announced that the state of emergency would continue for at least another month.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour in Baghdad for us.

Thank you, Christiane, very much.

Even before today's election, there were calls from the Bush administration to set a definitive timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Here to weigh in on that question and more, two guests: the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, and in Detroit, the committee's top Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION," especially on this historic day.

Senator Warner, I know you're very delighted. Is this the way you anticipated it unfolding, today's election?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I think we were all very cautious.

And I commend the president in the decisive and firm and calm way he addressed the people just now, properly giving credit to our troops in the coalition forces, to the extraordinary revelation of how competent the Iraqi forces have -- that bodes well for those who trained them -- and, most of all, to the people of Iraq.

He himself, the president, has shouldered these heavy responsibilities, and with great modesty today, he gave credit where it was due.

Now we go with an election that -- its credibility, the credibility of the election is transferred to this new government.

BLITZER: Now they have to come up with a constitution and a new government.

WARNER: Correct.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Levin weigh in, as well.

Were you surprise, Senator Levin, how relatively well it all went today in Iraq?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I was hopeful it would go that way, so I can't say I'm totally surprised by it.

By I surely -- I think all of us want to congratulate those in Iraq who took some risks to go out and vote. There were some ares where there was no risk involved at all. I'm afraid there were some areas where the turnout is extremely low, and that's the Sunni Triangle areas or parts thereof. And that's the challenge that we now face.

But Iraqis that did turn out in large numbers, at least in some areas and in some places, took their lives in their hands in doing so, and we're very delighted with that, of course. Our own troops, as always, performed extraordinarily well.

BLITZER: If, in fact, a new democratic Iraq emerges out of this -- and it's been almost two years since the start of the invasion -- Senator Levin, will it have been worth it?

LEVIN: It's way too early to know what's going to come of this.

I think, Wolf, it's good that we realize that a door was opened today. People voted. I watched people vote actually right here in Detroit. I watched Iraqi-Americans vote. It's very exciting.

But there's huge challenges ahead of us.

First of all, we've got to see whether or not the Iraqi people will put their lives on the line in joining the security forces. There are very few trained Iraqi security forces in Iraq. That is a huge challenge. The courage that was shown today by some in Iraq need to be reflected in their willingness to join their own army, to get trained and to take risks to take on the insurgents.

And the other issue, of course, we do not know is whether or not the Shia, who will be clearly in the majority, will reach out to the Sunnis in order to make them part of this nation. Because the Sunnis have got to be involved. They have some leverage because there's a mechanism that they have to -- if two-thirds of the people in three provinces disapprove the constitution, the constitution doesn't go into effect.

But mainly, we need the Shia leaders and religious and political leaders to be wise, to reach out to the Sunnis. That is a huge challenge ahead of us as well.

BLITZER: The Democratic senator Edward Kennedy spoke out this week in a speech, and he called for a timetable for the start of the U.S. withdrawal, Senator Warner.

Listen precisely to what Senator Kennedy said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Once Sunday's elections are behind us and the democratic transition is under way, President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces with the Iraqi government.

At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once to send a strong signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Kennedy?

WARNER: I, frankly, wish he'd have waited until after these elections to have given that message.

I join with Senator Biden this morning, who when asked that same question, said he did not agree. And I think most of us do not agree with our colleague, Senator Kennedy.

BLITZER: That there should be a timetable for withdrawal...

WARNER: No, absolutely not.

BLITZER: Let me ask Senator Levin...

WARNER: Let me just -- now is the time for us.

We had General Abizaid before our committee, Armed Services, this week. I talked with General Casey, as did Carl Levin, this morning, early. And we're beginning to put our advisers working with these Iraqi forces to accelerate building up their strength and their confidence to take on increasing amounts of the security of this nation.

And that is the only basis on which we can begin at some time in the future, perhaps, to formulate an orderly exit strategy, when, as the secretary of state said this morning, "the job is done."

BLITZER: What about that phased withdrawal, a timed withdrawal beginning immediately, Senator Levin, as Senator Kennedy suggests? Where do you stand?

LEVIN: I think we should, first of all, see who the government is. We have to try to find a way as quickly as possible to end our status as an occupying power. That status has worked against us in terms of the propaganda that the insurgents have used.

And so, as soon as there is a government in place, that government, hopefully, will invite the international community, including us, to stay on. And with that invitation, the occupying power status would then be eliminated, and we would then be there at the invitation of a sovereign Iraqi government.

I do not think, however, it is wise to say now what specific number of troops that we would be withdrawing at a particular moment. I think that is putting the cart a little bit ahead of the horse. As important as it is that we finally obtain some kind of an exit strategy, we have to negotiate that with the sovereign government and see whether or not the Iraqis will step up to their own security as well.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, I know you were briefed, and your colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, by General Abizaid, the military commander of the Central Command, this week. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was there. You were all behind closed doors, but you emerged encouraged by what you heard.

Can you share with us what you heard that gives you that kind of encouragement?

WARNER: Well, clearly we're making steady progress in training the Iraqi forces. As I said, we're going to put advisory teams, somewhat like we did during the Vietnam conflict, with those forces.

BLITZER: Well, when you bring up the Vietnam conflict, that didn't turn out great.

WARNER: Well, I know, but the concept of our people being -- in other words, actually living and eating and sleeping and actually working on the tactical situations, I think that'll work and work well.

And I compliment General Casey and General Luck, who went over to explore these ideas.

But that is progress. And this day will give this new Iraqi force a tremendous sense of confidence and self-respect among their own people.

It's important that our government now, in each step it takes, try and show the growing independence of the Iraqi government and its people in the hopes that sooner they will take over than later their own responsibility of security and governing. And then, as our president said, at any time that they feel we should leave, we shall leave.

BLITZER: You were at those briefings as well, Senator Levin. What did you hear that gave you reason to be concerned or encouraged?

LEVIN: Well, of course we're encouraged by the fact that there seems to be some progress in some places against the insurgents.

But I've got to tell you that the continued exaggeration of the number of trained Iraqi forces -- when that number of 130,000 is thrown around, it is an exaggeration. It's a mistake.

We've got to be very realistic that we've got some hurdles ahead of us that we've got to jump. One of those hurdles is to train those forces. I agree with what John Warner just said, that our working with them as closely as now planned is a good idea.

But the 130,000 is a wild exaggeration, in terms of trained Iraqi forces who can take on the insurgents. That number, at most, is in the few tens of thousands.

BLITZER: Condoleezza Rice said 50,000 of the 130,000 were police, so they're really not combat-ready. When you say tens of thousands -- Joe Biden said 4,000 really were combat-ready. What do you say, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: Well, there are apparently 40 battalions which Allawi feels are combat-ready. There are about 500 persons in each battalion. Forty times 500 is roughly 20,000 people, Iraqis who are trained, that are able to take on the insurgency. That's as good a number as I've seen.

The 4,000 to 5,000 number that Joe Biden mentioned are the trained people in the army. The additional people that get those battalions filled are people in the national guard.

But it can't be more than 20,000, perhaps 30,000. And 130,000, it seems to me, is a number which is a mistake to throw around, because we've got to look at the hard realities, as well as the hopes.

BLITZER: All right.

I'll give you the last word, Senator Warner.

WARNER: Well, actually, I participated early on, when Carl and I came back from Iraq here just before Christmas, in saying that we've got to get firmer numbers as to what the professional competence and level of competence the Iraqi troops have. And the government, particularly the Pentagon, has steadily been shaping that up.

But now is a magnificent opportunity to, again, show our patience -- there will be possibly trouble here in the future -- but show our patience and conviction to stick with our president until this situation enables the Iraqi people to take charge of their own government.

Freedom received a great message today from the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, thanks very much.

WARNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, as usual, thanks to you as well.

LEVIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, protecting the polls: We'll talk with Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, about keeping his country's voters safe in the face of a stubborn and deadly insurgency.

Our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" continues right after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes."

With insurgents promising to harm anyone and everyone who participated in today's vote, security was the top concern.

Joining us now on the phone from Baghdad, Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie.

Mr. Al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us.

I assume you are extremely pleased by the results. What happened today on the streets of Iraq?

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQ'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, this is one of the most joyful days ever in the history of this nation. This is a historic day. This is a paradigm shift that is transforming this country from the most ruthless, brutal, despotic regime, known dictatorship, into a full-fledged democracy.

Today Iraqi people have served a blow and slap on the face of Zarqawi and Saddam loyalists and bin Laden. Iraqi people -- really, I'm thrilled. I can't describe my feeling. The Iraqi people, despite the fact that these threats and blood on the streets, they bought their freedom and they paid heavily in treasure and in blood.

And this is a great nation, honestly. I can't describe my feeling. People are really happy. They're so determined. The resolve among the Iraqi people is sky-high. Can you think, can you imagine how people in some of the Western democracy or other democracies, if it's raining, the turnout in the ballot boxes is going to be low. If it's very cold or snowy, the turnout is low. Now people in Iraq are threatened with their lives, and despite the fact, they turned out in millions on the ballot boxes. This is a great nation.

BLITZER: And in fact, Mr. Al-Rubaie, the warnings from the insurgents, including the pamphlets that had been released going into elections, were very chilling.

Let me read one that said, "This is a final warning to all of those who plan to participate in the election. We vow to wash the streets of Baghdad with the voters' blood. To those of you who think you can vote and then run away, we will shadow you and catch you, and we will cut off your heads and the heads of your children."

Those are very chilling words. It didn't materialize on this day. Are you concerned that in the coming days, though, these insurgents will seek to follow up on that threat?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, to be honest with you, I was a little bit worried. But now our people have voted, and they voted despite the fact that they were about to lose their lives and to spill their blood.

Now my people have given us much more confidence, and now the millions of Iraqis are versus the Zarqawis and the Saddam loyalists. The fighting is between the democratic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Iraq, and thus millions of Iraqis are taking the responsibility now of fighting terrorism and the undemocratic, the dark forces, the people who want to bring Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship and his terror regime back into power, people who wanted to impose Taliban-style regime like the one in Afghanistan -- used to be in Afghanistan -- and impose it on this great nation.

This is not -- these people are not easy people. This is a -- Iraqi people have 7,000 years of culture and civilization. They managed to build from Assyrians, Chaldeans and Sumerians to the Islamic civilization 1,400 years ago. This is a great nation, and it's proven today.

BLITZER: I know you're...

AL-RUBAIE: And it is well worth -- we paid to free ourselves heavily, blood and treasure, with the help of our friends in the world.

BLITZER: One quick question...

AL-RUBAIE: Now we are...

BLITZER: One quick question about Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. There's been some speculation you may be getting closer to finding terrorist number-one in Iraq. Are you getting closer? AL-RUBAIE: I can tell you one thing, Wolf, without disclosing any secrets: We sometimes see -- not see, but we feel that we are two days away from Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. He was here in this place two days ago, and we are in that house two days later. That close we are in. So I think he is not far away from the justice of the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Mowaffak Al-Rubaie is the national security advisor of Iraq.

Congratulations to you, Mr. Al-Rubaie. Thanks very much for joining us on this historic day here on CNN.

AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much indeed for having me.

BLITZER: And up next, gauging Iraqi sentiment around the world: We'll talk with a reporter of what she sees happening right now inside Iraq.

Our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tremendous acts of courage today by Iraqis who went to the polls despite death threats. With us now, from Baghdad, to talk about this day, what it's been like, Alissa Rubin. She's the co- bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times.

Alissa, thanks very much for joining us.

What was it like for a reporter watching all of this unfold today?

ALISSA RUBIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, I think we were all very surprised, because early in the morning there was quite a few bombs in Baghdad. We could hear the reverberations around the city. Really, the early reports was that, particularly in Sunni neighborhoods, there was only a trickle of voters coming in.

But then, as it calmed down and was quiet for several hours, it really swelled through the day. And by the time I was out on the street in the sort of mid-late afternoon, people had come. Many Sunnis were voting, particularly in fairly stable areas. Obviously, there are parts of the country where there was a only very small Sunni turnout. But these are areas where, after people have been threatened, there have been leaflets, there have been personal threats left on people's cars, and they decided to vote anyway.

And there was just an enormous feeling of determination. It wasn't the -- the politicians sort of sound an exhilarated note, but, I think, for individual Iraqis, there was just a decision to do it and then a move ahead.

And I was very struck. I met one young man who actually both had voted but was also sort of a poll attendant volunteer, and his family was from Fallujah, which, obviously, has been very turbulent, where there's a lot of dislike of the occupation and of the current government. But he was voting, and his wife had voted. And there was just a great sense that this was their chance to make a difference.

BLITZER: And so, when the president, only a few moments ago, Alissa, from the White House declared this election, in his words, "a resounding success," I suspect you agree with him.

RUBIN: Well, I do think it was a success. I don't think that that means the road ahead is smooth.

There were large areas of the country, and they were mostly the Sunni areas, where really only a small percentage of people voted. And that means an awful lot of people who feel they don't have or may not have any political stake in the future, and that's always a problem.

And I think until we can see whether the rest of the country, the Shiites, Kurds, the minorities, can bring in some portion of those disaffected Sunnis, it's hard to say that the project is going to be a success.

Because, obviously, if we go back right now, we're in a sort of state of emergency. No cars can move. Once we can go back to a more normal situation where cars can move on the streets, and therefore suicide bombers can also move readily on the streets, if there are an awful lot of disaffected, angry Sunnis who are going to augment the insurgency, that will be a problem for the new government that will undermine it for some time to come.

So I still think we have a lot of steps to go.

BLITZER: Alissa Rubin writes for the Los Angeles Times, joining us from Baghdad.

Alissa, be careful over there. Thanks very much for that analysis.

RUBIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: The difficult and dangerous road to this election day has come at a very high cost, often the ultimate cost, for Iraqis. That's also the case now for more than 1,400 U.S. men and women who have served in Iraq and thousands of others have been wounded.

Our Judy Woodruff is over at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington with more on this part of the story.

Judy, give us a little sense what it's like where you are.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. I am at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on this snowy Sunday afternoon. This is a place, Wolf, that has seen hundreds and hundreds of soldiers and Marines seriously wounded in Iraq.

And just a few days ago I had the privilege to meet three young men, two of them, each had lost a leg. A third young man, just 23 years old, had lost both legs. I heard their stories of incredible courage, but what was so striking is how determined each one of them is that the United States fulfill its commitment in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't duck out too soon, despite all the pressure from everyone else for us to do that. Because I don't want my brother, nephews and children to have to come back there in a few years and do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If America pulls out too soon, if the coalition pulls out too soon, then my injury was in vain.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

WOODRUFF: So, Wolf, despite the terrible sacrifice that each one of these men has made, they still believe it is so important for the United States to stay as long as necessary, and they were looking forward to today's election.

BLITZER: So, Judy, give us a little personal perspective. You go there, you meet with these wounded U.S. troops, some of them in pretty bad shape. How do you emerge from those kind of conversations -- depressed, encouraged? What's the personal sense that you get from these encounters?

WOODRUFF: Well, Wolf, you can't help but be torn up when you watch a young man who, at the age of whether it's 23 or 29 or 34, in the case of the Marine, you know, young men who, you know, had everything to live for, they've come back to the United States, their lives are forever changed.

At the same time, they're all supporting each other. We were in a room here where they were doing physical therapy, working with rehabilitation. They're all supporting each other, bucking each other up.

The Marine wants to stay in the Marines. He wants to -- he said, "I'm going to run that three miles that you've got to run to stay in the Marines."

So you come away both -- of course, you know, you can't help but be affected by what's happened to them but, at the same time, lifted up by their extraordinary courage and their spirit, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Judy. Thanks very much.

We're going to be getting back to Judy. She has more reporting to do, more stories to tell us what's happening at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We'll check back with Judy in an hour or so.

Just ahead, what's the potential impact of today's vote on Iraq's minorities, especially the Sunnis? We'll sort out the possibilities with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Much more coverage. Our "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

During the reign of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Sunnis controlled the country. But today's election promises a dramatic shift in power toward the majority Shiite population.

Here to help us better understand what's going on inside Iraq today, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, you've been taking a closer look at all the problems, the ethnic, the religious tensions, the history of this country. Give us a little sense what you've come up with.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Iraq could become the first Arab state with a Shia-dominated government, which is of concern to the minorities and to other Arab countries. The Sunni Arabs are facing the prospect of losing power.

And the fact that all of Iraq is one election district makes the problem bigger, because the number of seats that a party wins is proportional to the number of votes it gets. So, if most Sunnis didn't vote today, they won't get their fair share of seats.

That problem could have been avoided, if there were Sunni- majority districts. Then the Sunnis would have been elected, no matter how few votes they got.

As it is, a lot of people are trying to figure out how to include the Sunni minority in the government, even if they don't win many seats, by involving them in the process of writing the constitution and by even including them in the cabinet.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a moment, because we're just getting some videotape in. Only a few moments ago, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, spoke out on today's elections in Iraq and the crash of that British C-130 Hercules transport plane. Let's roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: Good evening.

I'd like to say a few words about the elections in Iraq, but also about the tragic loss of British lives in the Hercules C-130 aircraft.

I know the war in Iraq deeply divided opinion here and right round the world. But I also note that whatever views people have of how we came to this point, we all of us will want to embrace the birth of Iraq's new democracy.

It may have been the force of arms that removed Saddam and created circumstances in which Iraqis could vote, but it was the force of freedom that was felt throughout Iraq today. We know it's only a beginning; we know there are many difficulties that lie ahead. But it was moving and humbling for those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy and take it for granted to see the enthusiasm and the simple determination, the clear sight of courage of millions of Iraqis that came out to vote for the first time in their lives, despite the terrorism, despite the threats, despite the dangers.

However, democracy in Iraq is not just good for Iraq itself. It is also a blow right to the heart of the global terrorism that threatens destruction not just in Iraq, but in Britain and virtually every major country around the world.

What we now have to do is to sit down with the new Iraqi government once it's formed and work out a way forward to help Iraqis' democracy grow, to build the capability of Iraqi security forces to tackle the issues of security themselves, and to make sure that the large sums of money that the global community is providing, set aside for reconstruction, are used to make the lives of ordinary Iraqis better.

There is still a great deal to do, therefore.

I would like to pay tribute to the United Nations staff and the Electoral Commission of Iraq for their steadfastness in organizing the elections.

And I would like to express, of course, my admiration for the work of the Iraqi and the multinational forces. Without them, there would be no election.

And in particular, I want our British armed forces to know the immense debt of gratitude that they are owed. This is the true face of the British Army: brave, committed, professional the world over, doing an extraordinary job on behalf of their country.

Yet again today, we see the sacrifice that they make. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives earlier today. They can be so proud of what their loved ones accomplished. This country and the wider world will never forget them.

Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The British prime minister, Tony Blair, speaking in London just a few minutes ago.

Let's bring back our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Tony Blair, George W. Bush, they've been attached throughout this entire Iraqi adventure, if you want to call it that. Today's election has to be good news, very good political news for both of these leaders. SCHNEIDER: Especially for Tony Blair, because George Bush just got re-elected. Tony Blair is facing an election probably this year, possibly as soon as May.

His Iraq policies have not been particularly popular in Britain. As he indicated, it's divided the country. His closeness to President Bush is not popular in Britain.

So this election has got to be greeted with some sigh of relief by Tony Blair.

BLITZER: The outcome today, which we won't know actually for a couple of weeks or so, 10 days or two weeks, but the fact that people went to the polls in the millions, that's going to send a powerful signal out there.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It was a statement of defiance against the insurgence. And that can only help Tony Blair.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, we'll have you back. Thanks very much.

Bill Schneider is watching these elections with us as well.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage: Iraq votes. Our "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

An election-day survey is also providing some insight into how Iraqis feel about their country and where it's headed.

Joining us now here in Washington, James Zogby. He's the president of the Arab-American Institute as well as senior analyst for the Zogby International poll. And Brent McGurk worked in Iraq as a constitutional adviser to the former Coalition Provisional Authority.

Gentlemen, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

And, Jim, let me start with you. One of the fascinating questions on your Zogby poll: "Should Iraq have an Islamic government?" You found 59 percent said no; 34 percent said yes.

Thirty-four percent seems like a pretty large number, that they want sort of a Shiite-led, fundamentalist government.

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB-AMERICAN INSTITUTE: And note that, as we found on literally every question, a deep sectarian divide. So that while Sunni were decidedly against it -- and that applies to both Kurds and Arabs -- and Christians of course decidedly against, the Shia population was divided down the middle, with just a slight leaning toward Islamic government.

When you do a subset of that, strong supporters of Sistani and supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, they want an Islamic government. So the question is, the minority of the majority that has won, in fact, wants an Islamic government. And that could be a problem. We'll have to watch and see where we go in the coming months.

BLITZER: How worried are you about that, Brett?

BRETT MCGURK, ADVISER, CPA: Well, frankly, define "Islamic government."

What I think is very encouraging -- there's really two currents going on in Iraq right now.

First, the political leadership of the Shia political class -- Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, Ibrahim Al Jafri -- all of them saying over and over again, "We want to reach out to all groups in Iraq. We want the government to respect the Islamic traditions of Iraq. But we want the government to be undergirded by secular political leaders." And I think we have to take that seriously.

In the interim constitution, Article 7 was fiercely debated by the political class in Iraq, these same figures who are now emerging after elections. And compromises were brokered between the Kurdish leadership, the Shia leadership and the Sunni leadership.

And it says we will respect the Islamic traditions of Iraq, but it's a secular government. Islam is not the only source of law; it's one of them.

BLITZER: Are you encouraged by what has happened today, looking at the overall situation in Iraq?

ZOGBY: Well, look, you know, the election could, in fact -- what we found with our numbers -- end up exacerbating existing divisions. There are deep divides in Iraq, and I worry about them.

And I don't want to have a "mission accomplished" moment here. I think we need to take a deep breath. It's good that Iraqis voted. They will now put together a national assembly that will move the country forward.

But I think there are deep problems that remain. And frankly speaking, we're going to be watching over the next several months to see how they work through those problems. The divide with the Kurds is real. The divide between Sunni and Shia is real.

And I think we have to see how this is going to play out, rather than get caught up in hyperbole and assume that, in fact, problems are over and we're now moving forward easily.

BLITZER: Your bottom-line assessment right now, you agree?

MCGURK: I absolutely agree. It's a long road ahead. These elections are a first step in a process that's going to unfold over the next year.

But there are institutional mechanisms in place to bring Sunni Arabs into the process at a number of points, in setting up the transitional government, in the constitutional process as well. So there's room for...

ZOGBY: The important thing now is going to be that those mechanisms are in place. The point is that Iraqis are going to work this out themselves. And that, if anything, what this election has done, is now decidedly passed the torch. And frankly speaking, if they make the wrong moves, we can't be a part of helping correct course.

BLITZER: Good advice from Jim Zogby, as usual. Don't declare "mission accomplished" yet.

Jim Zogby, thanks very much.

ZOGBY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Brett McGurk, thanks to you as well.

MCGURK: Thank you.

BLITZER: More of our special coverage, "Iraq Votes," right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And welcome back.

Coming up, what today's election means for Iraq's Kurds, among others. We'll have a special conversation with the Kurdish leader, the former Iraqi Governing Council member, Jalal Talabani.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The polls have been closed now in Iraq for several hours, the vote-counting just beginning, but it's clear the Iraqis were determined to make history today.

Our Anderson Cooper has been watching all of these developments unfold. He's joining us now live from Baghdad.

Anderson, give us a sense of how this day unfolded.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. As you said, the vote-counting is still going on. We don't know who won, which parties won this election.

But we do know who lost today. The insurgents lost today. They had vowed to wash the streets of Baghdad with the blood of anyone who dared to vote, any Iraqi who dared cast a ballot. The Iraqis heard that threat, they heard the threat, but they didn't pay attention. They went to the polls anyway. We don't know the percentages yet. Early-on figures had put it at 72 percent. That, of course, higher than many had expected. The government then downgraded that figure to about 60 percent.

Whatever the final turnout, though, anecdotally, what we saw today, what I saw today in polling stations here throughout Iraq was an extraordinary turnout of people, an extraordinary, emotional day.

You know, you use the word "historic" a lot; all of us have been over this last week or so. "Historic" sounds almost dry. Yes, it was a historic day, but it was an emotional day, it was an extraordinary day, it was a remarkable day. And it was a privilege to be here to witness it.

It was such a simple thing in the end -- people going and casting their ballot. And yet it was such a difficult thing at the same time. There was so much fear, so much trepidation when people woke up this morning whether or not to step outside their door, whether or not to take those steps and walk down the street and make it to a polling stop.

In neighborhood after neighborhood, block after block, that is what people did. They stood in line, sometimes for several hours.

It was an emotional day, indeed, Wolf.

BLITZER: One quick question, you know, for Iraqis -- and I remember, over the years, when Saddam Hussein every few years staged some phony referendum, some phony election, they would always have 99.9999 percent turnout. There was only one candidate, of course, on the ballot. That was Saddam Hussein. And if people didn't vote in those days, they could be sent to jail. They could get a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

So, the perspective for a truly free and democratic election for these Iraqis, given to what they went through for three decades under Saddam Hussein's regime, it must have been an awesome experience for so many millions of those people.

Did they convey that thought to you, Anderson?

COOPER: Absolutely. And even if they weren't saying it in words, I mean, you could see it on their faces. There was this -- it was interesting, when you got to the polling place, there was a hush. It was totally quiet, except for the occasional sound of gunshots echoing in the streets or the sound of mortars landing in the distance.

And yet, there was this sort of quiet resolve of people just standing in line silently. In the polling station where I spent about an hour, people waited about an hour on line, just slowly moving up the line, going through the various checkpoints, just grimly determined to cast their vote.

And then a few people, as they left the polling station, breaking out in smiles. One woman was sort of shouting out to the crowd. The crowd applauded her as she was crying out with joy, saying that she hadn't slept the night before because she was so excited.

And you look into the faces of these people, so many of them who had lost children, who had lost brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers, and you realize what they have gone through for these many years, not just the last year, not just the last two years, but for much of their lives.

And you look at old men who never in their entire lives have they voted. One man I spoke to, this was the first time in his life he had voted, and there was just this extraordinary sort of joy and surprise in his face.

It was truly a remarkable, privileged day to be in Baghdad. A good day in Baghdad, as an Iraqi man said to me with surprise in his voice. You don't hear many Iraqis saying, "Today was a good day in Baghdad," but it certainly was that. And we all, all of us who were here, felt it, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson Cooper, we'll be checking back with you.

Anderson is reporting for us from Baghdad.

Let's move a little bit north now, north of Baghdad, where voters didn't let the threat of death and violence dampen their enthusiasm either. CNN's Jane Arraf witnessed the action in the town of Baqouba. She's joining us now live via videophone from there.

And, Jane, you can remember, as our long-time 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 Baqouba 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.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Jane Arraf in Baqouba for us.

We'll be checking back with you as well, Jane. Thank you for your excellent reporting, as usual.

Iraqi expatriates around the world and here in the United States have been voting since Friday. Security was a key priority at many of the polling stations right here in the United States. There have been five of them that were established.

Our own Bob Franken is at one of those polling places, in New Carrollton, Maryland. That's just outside Washington, D.C.

What's it like there today, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to ignore the security, Wolf. In addition to the winter weather that the Iraqi expat voters have to go through today, they also have to go through quite a gauntlet of security.

First of all, you can see behind me there are highly visible police cars and police officers. Everywhere there a lot of bomb- sniffing dogs that check out just about anything that gets near the building. Anybody who enters has to go through a series of searches, both pat-down searches and electronic searches, people looking for items.

Now, the officials here tell us that there is not any specific intelligence that there was going to be any trouble, but given just how intense and volatile the situation is, they said they were taking no chances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have done our homework. We have talked with some military experts about what we should be looking for and so forth.

You know, I can assure you that this is probably the best- security polling site in the country. We've gone to great lengths and spared no resource in order to put it together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: And one of the matters that caused them to be particularly careful here is the fact that this is the polling place outside of Washington, D.C.

And, Wolf, the security is going to be here for, oh, about three hours. The polls are open that long.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Did they get a nice turnout there, Bob?

FRANKEN: They got -- remember now, the registration was fairly low throughout the United States, but they got a really big turnout yesterday, about 1,400 people, and a couple more hundred today. So, just about 75 to 80 percent of all those who registered in this area came.

And remember, many of them come from hundreds of miles away. So, for the people who did vote, they did so very enthusiastically.

BLITZER: Our own Bob Franken in New Carrollton, Maryland, just outside the nation's capital.

Bob, thank you very much.

One of the more powerful figures in Iraq is Jalal Talabani, the founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. His own political future is in play as the votes are now being counted, as well as the clout of his fellow Kurds in the three northern provinces.

I spoke with Jalal Talabani just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jalal Talabani, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations to you, to all the Kurdish people of Iraq.

I assume you're very pleased with what has happened today.

JALAL TALABANI, FOUNDER, PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN: Yes. Really, I am very pleased. We consider it as our national feast. It was a historic day.

Thanks to you, to your brave army, who liberated us from the worst kind of dictatorship and prepared for us this day -- historic day.

BLITZER: So what happens, Mr. Talabani, what happens next?

TALABANI: Well, the next will be the new national assembly will gather to elect the presidency, and then this presidency will ask to any one of a candidate to form cabinet.

And I think the most important task will be a comprehensive plan to eradicate terrorist activities in Iraq and open the way for an ordinary life for Iraqi people -- all Iraqi people: Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans and Christian and Muslims.

BLITZER: There's been some talk that you could emerge perhaps as the next president of Iraq or one of the vice presidents. Is that your ambition? TALABANI: Well, the Kurds are asking for one of the two main posts of Iraq, presidency or premiership, but it will be decided by the national assembly.

BLITZER: What kind of turnout are you hearing that there were in the main Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq?

TALABANI: Well, you know, the Kurdish regional government or region of Kurdistan is more advanced than the other parts of Iraq. It's secure, and people and companies can work, and the society is developing very well. We can give an example to other parts of Iraq.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied, though, with the way this election has turned out from the Iraqi Sunni perspective? There was a lot of concern that the Sunnis would not show up out of intimidation or fear.

TALABANI: I think the results, even in the Sunni area, is excellent. We were not expecting. But, you know, Sunnis were under the threat of terrorists, and they were threatened by the terrorists even to kill them if they go to vote. Nevertheless, there are a lot of voting in the Sunni areas, and in many places there are a big number of Sunnis who voted in this election.

BLITZER: How close do you believe Iraqi authorities or coalition forces, U.S. forces are to capturing the terrorist Abu Musab al- Zarqawi?

TALABANI: I think, according to the last news, information, many close assistants of this criminal have been arrested. And now the circle is going to be closed and closed to him. I think he will be arrested within next month.

BLITZER: Within one month, is that what you're saying?

TALABANI: I hope so, yes.

BLITZER: Do you have a suspicion where, what part of Iraq he's hiding out in right now?

TALABANI: You know, this criminal is moving from place to place and getting benefit even from this democratic climate which is now in Iraq. And I think he has some supporters among the ex-Baathist Saddamists and some extremist religious Sunni men.

BLITZER: When do you think U.S. troops will begin withdrawing, will start to be able to withdraw from Iraq?

TALABANI: I think we need coalition forces for ending the interim period to draft a constitution, and then after drafting the constitution, to have a new election at the end of this year, and then to reform, to have, of course, our army and police and security forces. Then we will negotiate with the American forces and coalition forces.

I, personally, I don't ask for American troops to leave Iraq very soon. BLITZER: We have a picture of you voting earlier today in Sulaymaniyah. What was it like for you, as a Kurdish leader of Iraq, to go into a polling booth and to vote in a democratic election for the new leadership, the constitution, the national assembly of Iraq?

TALABANI: It was a dream. I have passed 70 years of my life. I haven't a chance to vote in a democratic election in Iraq. Only once we had elected a Kurdish national assembly. For that, it was for me achieving a very favorable dream, and in the same time it was like national feast.

I thought that we are proud to be in Iraq, in liberated Iraq, and we are very glad, and we are also very happy to have friends like coalition forces who liberated us from worst kind of dictatorship in Iraq.

BLITZER: Jalal Talabani, congratulations to you. Thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

TALABANI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll talk to a reporter for The New Yorker magazine, John Lee Anderson, about the man who led Iraq thus far, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Are Iraqis better off with him at the helm?

Much more of our special coverage on "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes," right after this.

(COMMERIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this: Should the United States set a specific date to withdraw troops from Iraq?

You can vote right now. Go to see cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results. That's coming up.

Also ahead, what's at stake for Iran, right next door, as Iraqis experiment with democracy?

You're watching our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes." We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has extended the election state of emergency for 30 days, giving him some special powers over security and military forces.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Someone who has studied Allawi and Iraq is joining us now. John Lee Anderson writes for The New Yorker magazine; most recently did a profile of Allawi called, "A Man of the Shadows." John Lee Anderson's joining us from London. John Lee Anderson, give us, first of all, a sense of your perspective. Jim Zogby said a little while ago on this show, "Let's not declare mission accomplished yet." Give us your sense of what this day means for Iraq.

JOHN LEE ANDERSON, THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think it was a historic watershed. For the first time, the insurgents have had to compete with the free will of the Iraqi people, those who went to the polls.

And I think, as Anderson Cooper was saying from Iraq, it was a discernible defeat for the insurgents in symbolic, psychological and political terms.

A great many people went, more than I think were expected. And there's no doubt that a great many people were seen for the first time in a long time in Iraq on television cameras expressing joy and gratitude and pleasure at being able to cast their vote, however imperfect the circumstances.

So I think, in that sense, we have reached a new phase in this disaster that has been Iraq over the last two years. And hopefully, it portends a turning of the corner. It will be gradual. It's going to be messy. I expect, in fact, a spike in violence over the coming days, when the security clamped down on traffic and things are lifted. But we will have to see.

But I have a feeling that things may inch forward slightly from now on, and they haven't been for a long time.

BLITZER: In your article in The New Yorker on Iyad Allawi, you write this, and let me read just a little sentence from it: "Just as in the past, Iraqis hid their true feelings about Saddam's brutal tyranny by referring to him as, quote, `strict,' Iraqis today calmly describe Allawi as tough. It is an oddly polite term, a euphemism, that conceals varying degrees of fear, loathing and admiration."

This man who might be the next prime minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, take us a little bit into him. What is he all about?

ANDERSON: Well, the title is well-chosen. He is a man of the shadows, despite the fact that I spent quite a bit of time with him recently. We had several meetings and he opened up quite a bit to me. He is nonetheless an elusive man. He has lived in a secretive world for many years.

He spent his youth as a Baathist militant. He joined the Baath Party at the age of 12, believing in anti-colonialism, pan-Arabism, all of those lofty ideals that the Baath Party once stood for. He, in fact, helped assist the Baath Party seize power in 1968 and ultimately helped launch Saddam Hussein in his career.

A couple of years later, he fell out of favor with Saddam and broke with him, and Saddam ordered an assassination attempt against him. He then spent the last 30 years of his life, the next 30 years, until 2003, as a conspirator against Saddam, with the backing of the British and the American intelligence agencies.

To a large extent, he sees himself still fighting the same enemies: his former comrades. I mean, Saddam's regime, as we all know, didn't so much stand and fight as it melted into the shadows. And very soon, the coalition and returned exiles like him, beginning in 2003, faced an increasingly vicious insurgency.

BLITZER: A lot of officials in Washington, John Lee, say that he is their favorite candidate to be the real leader of Iraq. Is he someone -- first of all, do you think he will be this next prime minister?

ANDERSON: First of all, yes, I think there is a chance. He is a secular Shiite. The West feels good about him. He has cross- sectarian appeal to both secular Sunnis and Shias. He has wooed former members of the Baath Party and Saddam's military who were thrown out peremptorily during the coalition's early days. This gives him an edge over many other candidates. He is someone, also, who's known to the West for the past 25 years.

And Iraqis, I think, importantly, look to him as a figure of authority and power -- a strong man, a tough guy. And seeing as their lives have been turned upside down in the past two years in complete anarchy, they do very much look to a strong figure to lead them again, not a Saddam again, but as one of his friends sort of waggishly told me, a "Saddam light."

BLITZER: John Lee Anderson writes for The New Yorker magazine and does it very well.

John Lee Anderson, thank you very much for spending a few moments with us here on "LATE EDITION." Appreciate it very much.

ANDERSON: Thank you, Wolf. My pleasure.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll speak with our senior Arab affairs editor, Octavia Nasr, about how the story is playing out right now in the Arab news media.

Our special "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So how is the rest of the Middle East viewing these Iraqi elections? For some perspective on all of this, let's go to our senior Arab affairs editor, Octavia Nasr, who is joining us from the CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

You're monitoring all these television channels. What's the bottom line? What are they saying, Octavia?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN ARAB AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, first of all, I think it's important to say that Al Arabia, the network that's Saudi- owned and based in Dubai, comes out a winner in this Iraqi election because they were betting on the election. For months now, Wolf, they've been running ad campaigns for the upcoming elections. They ran even ad campaigns for candidates in the last few weeks. Every 10 or 15 minutes, you have a slew of those campaigns running on Al Arabia. They've beefed up their coverage, and it came through for them. They were definitely big winners today in the coverage.

They are definitely in jubilation at Al Arabia in comparison to a grim tone at their competitor, Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, as you may remember, is banned from covering Iraq from inside Iraq. They are rolling these ads showing how the government of Iraq has banned them for the last six months from reporting anything from outside Iraq. They're obviously very upset about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: I guess that explains, Octavia, why President Bush gave this interview this past week to Al Arabia as opposed to Al Jazeera.

NASR: Absolutely. Al Arabia has been acting very well, if you will, with both the Iraqi government and the U.S. government. They're sort of behaving because they did get the same treatment a while back, and they had to do some adjustment.

Now, very important to note, last night, right before the polls opened, Al Arabia hosted live both the president of Iraq and the prime minister of Iraq. And the prime minister did thank them for their support. He said he appreciates the Al Arabia support for the elections. So that speaks volumes of the relationship that's going on there.

BLITZER: Octavia Nasr with that analysis for us.

Octavia, thank you very much. Very interesting.

Our colleague Judy Woodruff has been following the dramatic, poignant stories of the United States men and women who have paid some of the major price for all of the battles unfolding in Iraq.

Judy is joining us from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.

Judy?

WOODRUFF: Hello again, Wolf.

Yes, this is the place where so many grievously wounded soldiers and Marines have come to be treated over the last almost two years. Every week more of them come here. Each one of them has made an extraordinary sacrifice.

Just a few days ago I was privileged to meet three of them and to hear their stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Out there, a battle of quick wits.

In here, a battle of small steps, fought by men broken in body but not in spirit.

FIRST LIEUTENANT ED SALAU: In January or February of 2005, I was expecting to be home again in my living room.

WOODRUFF: Instead, First Lieutenant Ed Salau is learning to walk again. He joined the National Guard back when people who signed up never expected to be shipped off.

SALAU: Honestly, I thought it was one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, earn a little more money for more college, and that was about it.

WOODRUFF: His unit had been deployed just once since World War II. He didn't think he was going anywhere. But in February of 2004, Ed Salau found himself in Iraq.

SALAU: Looking for insurgents, weapons smugglers, bomb makers. And we were also trying to spread the good will of United States and make democracy look great.

WOODRUFF: As war stories go, the attack that took his leg was mundane: a routine patrol, a rocket-propelled grenade, a one-in-a- million shot. What is extraordinary is that he sees the incident as a victory.

SALAU: I realized I wasn't going to die. I realized we were fighting. I realized my guys were going to win. No one else was going to get hurt, and no one was going to die. We captured or killed the guys who attacked us. We won, you know. There was closure there.

SERGEANT MANNY MENDOZA: I was working in the drive-in which is in my hometown in Boonville, California.

WOODRUFF: It was nearly midnight when the Army recruiter came by. He bought gas and sold Manny Mendoza on the Army, promising money for college, a ticket out of Boonville. Sergeant Mendoza also never expected to see combat, but last spring his unit was deployed to Iraq.

MENDOZA: So I was, "OK, we'll go over there for a year. Let's do it. Why not?" And I was OK with it. Calmed some of my soldiers down. I'm like, "Hey, guys, it's just going to be a year. Nothing bad's going to happen." And at the time, we really hadn't heard too much about insurgents and bombs and anything like that.

WOODRUFF: He arrived in June. In October, his armored vehicle rolled over a stack of land mines. Mendoza woke up three weeks later here at Walter Reed Hospital.

MENDOZA: And that's when my parents and my uncle got together and they pretty much told me, grabbed my hand, and my mom said, "You lost your legs. It's OK, you're alive, but you lost your legs." At that point I lost it and started crying for about a good day and a half. I didn't stop crying.

WOODRUFF: What did you think when you knew you were going to Iraq? SERGEANT JACK SIGMAN: I'm a Marine, I go. It's what we do.

WOODRUFF: Of the three men we met at Walter Reed, only Sergeant Jack Sigman seemed prepared for the chaos of war. He had been to Iraq before, in 2003, and he tells his story in the most matter-of-fact way.

SIGMAN: An Iraqi guerrilla popped around the corner behind me and launched an RPG, aiming for the truck I was standing next to. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, he missed the Humvee, and it hit me.

WOODRUFF: His goal now, to get back in action.

SIGMAN: As long as we can continue to pass the physical fitness test, which consists of situps, pullups, and three-mile run, we can stay in the Marine Corps. For the Marines, I want to find a job where I'm doing something productive. You know, I'm not just riding a free- meal ticket. You know, I want to find something where I can genuinely contribute, and it's not just a hookup to the guy who lost his leg.

WOODRUFF: For Ed Salau and Manny Mendoza, the future is about recapturing the normalcy of civilian life.

MENDOZA: If you try to plan too far ahead, then you start remembering that I won't be able to do it because I don't have my legs.

WOODRUFF: But they dream big, about small steps.

SIGMAN: Well, my daughter and I, we had a -- she's a dancer. She's been dancing for the last seven or eight years. And we had plans to take a ballroom dancing class together. And we will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Lieutenant Salau, Sergeant Mendoza, Sergeant Sigman, each one of them, Wolf, has clearly serious new physical challenges, but, you know, their hopes and dreams are just like those of many of the rest of us.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Judy Woodruff, thanks for sharing those stories with us. Thanks for spending some time over there at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. We'll continue your coverage from what's going on over there in the next hour.

Judy Woodruff doing some good work for us.

Thank you.

And coming up, the special challenge for journalists covering the danger zone that is Iraq. I'll be joined by Washington Post media critic and the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The arguments will continue for weeks about winners or losers in this election, an historical election in Iraq. A key element, though, today, the threats and the reality of violence. Joining us now on the phone from Baghdad is Barham Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister for security.

Thanks, Mr. Minister, very much for joining us. Congratulations on these elections. Did it go much better than you thought would be the case?

BARHAM SALIH, IRAQ'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER FOR SECURITY: It did, indeed, go a lot better than we expected. But I would rather be introduced as citizen Barham Salih, a first-time voter. And one has to understand the significance of these elections being first ever democratic elections in the history of Iraq.

BLITZER: So how emotional are you about this?

SALIH: I really cannot describe my feelings. I have waited for this moment for so long. I remember today so many of my friends who have paid with their lives for freedom and so many victims of Saddam Hussein.

And I know also this would not have been possible without the commitment of the United States, Britain and so many other coalition members who have come from afar to help us overcome tyranny. So it's an exciting moment, emotional moment, but I hope we will build upon it, really build the first functioning democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East.

BLITZER: Did the Iraqi military meet the challenge of today and do the job it was supposed to do?

SALIH: We are very proud indeed of our military and security units. They have done a fantastic job. Over the last couple of weeks and throughout today, they have managed to foil many terrorist operations, obviously with the help of the multinational forces. But they have done extremely well, and we're very proud of them.

BLITZER: So what happens now? When do you think U.S. military forces might begin to start leaving Iraq, assuming the training continues as has been the case?

SALIH: I think we are all in agreement that we need to expedite the training and equipping of Iraqi military and security units. At the end of the day, security can only be delivered (ph) in a fundamental way by Iraqi, indigenous Iraqi security organizations. And this is a common pathos (ph) for us in the multinational forces.

And we have already entered into discussions with the American and British partners in this. And my hope is that we will create the conditions in which the security dynamics will change, in which the security forces of Iraq will assume direct and frontline responsibility for securing this country as opposed to the present dynamic where we rely so much on multinational forces.

BLITZER: Your colleague, the interior minister, is quoted on the wire services as telling a British television station that perhaps in 18 months U.S. troops could withdraw. Is that a realistic assessment?

SALIH: I think it's important not to talk about a timeline at this stage, talk about conditions upon which redeployment of forces and rearrangements and security arrangements could be made. There is a fundamental fact about Iraq. Iraq is a central front in the war against terror. We cannot let the terrorists dictate the timeline or let them work to a timeline.

We must work with the international community to defeat terrorism. And once that is done, then the conditions for redeployment of American and other coalition forces from Iraq will become possible. And we should talk about conditions as opposed to timelines.

BLITZER: Barham Salih, the Iraqi deputy prime minister.

Barham Salih, thanks very much for joining us. Once again, congratulations to you and all the Iraqi people on this election today.

We'll take another quick break. When we come back, how the news media are covering what's unfolding in Iraq today. Howard Kurtz standing by with some analysis. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This voting day began and ended with explosions. The polls here closed just a short while ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As we observe the political and military dramas playing out in Iraq, we're relying on teams of courageous journalists to bring us the information, the pictures, the background and the context of what's happening. The Iraq story has been a hard assignment for journalists, to put it mildly.

We're joined now by Howard Kurtz. He's the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," the media critic for The Washington Post.

Howie, thanks very much. You're looking at this whole media coverage of -- I think it's fair to say it's a historic day. What goes through your mind?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": Well, Wolf, there's been a full-scale media invasion of Iraq this past week, as you might expect. And some of the big-name journalists are finding the reporting conditions rather difficult.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is such a difficult country for an American journalist to travel in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had our own personal experience when were going to a checkpoint here at the Green Zone. And for a brief moment, it wasn't the kind of situation that you want to see when you see a U.S. armed soldier who is there with a machine gun and he's pointing it at you and wondering whether or not you are a friend or you are a foe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a fear of suicide car bombers, of snipers, of improvised explosive devices. And on that road, I can tell you when a car suddenly pulls up beside you, you are checking them out several times to make sure they're not bad guys looking to blow up you.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Moving around Iraq has gotten so dangerous, in fact, that many news organizations tell me they're having a hard time recruiting reporters for the assignment. Wolf?

BLITZER: That would be understandable, given the fact that it is a life-and-death kind of situation. But there's certainly no shortage of courageous American journalists who are willing to go.

KURTZ: Absolutely not. But let's face it, the big anchors who are there, they're there for a week, 10 days, and they'll come back. The hard slog of covering this week after week is being done by a lot of foreign correspondents, some of them not so famous, not household names. And yet, foreign editors tell me that a lot of them are exhausted. They've done their time in Iraq.

You get sort of worn out. It takes a psychological toll to live with that kind of danger day after day, difficulties in moving around. And so, it's getting harder to get people to re-up, to use a military term, to go there for another few weeks or another few months.

BLITZER: Is that the experience that you're finding in print, The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, that they want to just keep reporters there for a few months and then bring them back because it is too difficult emotionally?

KURTZ: Most news organizations have a rotation just because you need a break after living under that kind of pressure. The Washington Post has had trouble filling its Baghdad bureau chief position.

The Los Angeles Times, the foreign editor there told me that she thinks -- Marjorie Miller is her name -- she thinks that this is harder to cover than any war she's ever seen because it's not a traditional shooting war where you're traveling with the U.S. military. It is a war where at any time your car could be targeted, your hotel could be the focus of a suicide bombing. And so, the combination of the danger for reporters there and the limitations on where they can go and how much firsthand reporting they can do makes for a very frustrating situation. I think that's one of the reasons that we're seeing a harder time getting people to go do this job.

BLITZER: I've seen the big-name actors who were all there this week. I've been impressed. They're not just standing in one location in Baghdad in the Green Zone where it's relatively safe. I've seen them out and about with U.S. troops on helicopters moving around the country.

KURTZ: Absolutely. I talked to Peter Jennings while he was in the Baghdad area. And he told me that he was spending a lot of time talking to U.S. military people. I've seen Dan Rather out there doing that as well.

So I'm not suggesting that they just go there and use it as a colorful backdrop. But clearly, they are there to plant the network flag for the big day, today, the elections, and after that they will come back to New York and resume their normal lives.

But I think people forget there have been so many journalists killed, journalists kidnapped, detained, close calls where your vehicle comes under fire. That happened to a CNN correspondent.

This is a very difficult assignment. And my hat is off to anybody who takes on the challenge of interpreting what's going on there, living with the danger and also trying to talk to ordinary Iraqis.

That's the hardest part, in some ways. And I think today has been a good day for coverage because some of our people have been able to get out there and actually go to polling places and talk to average Iraqis.

BLITZER: Are we getting, in your opinion, an accurate reflective of the situation, accurate reflection of the situation in Iraq in print or electronic media? In other words, are we getting the real story?

KURTZ: I think we're getting a limited picture. And a lot of the journalists who have been there have told me they believe we're getting a limited picture. Two reasons: One is, as I mentioned, difficult to move around, particularly outside the Baghdad area, some of the more dangerous places, Fallujah, for example. It's hard to know what's going on in that area. A lot of times news organizations use Iraqi stringers because it's too dangerous for Westerners, Americans who could easily be identified, to go into some of these places.

Secondly, the negative news, the bombings, the grenades, when the U.S. Embassy was hit -- there often tends to be video of that. Television loves video. So the negative news, when people are killed, understandably tends to dominate that day's news cycle. What's harder to portray for the media, I believe, is sometimes the quiet progress that's being made in some of these areas.

So I think everybody is trying to provide a balanced picture, but I'm not sure we're there yet.

BLITZER: Everybody agrees, at least all the reporting that we've seen, all the other news organizations, today the elections went relatively well, a lot better than a lot of people thought would be the case. But it would be premature at this point to say, you know what, it's over, it's going to be great.

KURTZ: Well, we went through that when Saddam was captured. Things are going to look better now. So we don't know what the future is going to hold.

And also, you know, there hasn't been pictures available of the C-130 that went down or pictures available of the polling places where there was violence -- I guess some 30 or more people killed today. And so, it has been a relatively good day, but I think we ought to be wary about jumping to conclusions.

BLITZER: Let's not jump to conclusions yet. Let's just do the reporting. And I tip my hat off to all of our colleagues over there in Iraq who are willing to go over there and do this very, very dangerous work.

KURTZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Howard Kurtz is the anchor of CNN's "Reliable Sources." It airs every Sunday morning 11:30 a.m. eastern here on CNN. He's the media critic for The Washington Post as well, does an excellent job.

Coming up, we'll be checking in with some of our reporters on the scene in Iraq today.

And whatever the distance, their hearts remain in Iraq. We'll find out how and why thousands of expatriate Iraqis are voting as well.

Stay with our "LATE EDITION." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And welcome back. We'll have my interview with Adnan Pachachi in just a few minutes. But first, though, let's go to Atlanta and get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more details on what has been an extraordinary day in the history of Iraq. Millions of Iraqis went to the polls defying threats from insurgents.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is standing by with the latest. He's joining us live.

Anderson? COOPER: Yes, Wolf, you know, all week long, Iraqis here in Baghdad and throughout the country had heard threats from those insurgents. Insurgents here in Baghdad had handed out leaflets this past week saying that they would wash the streets of Baghdad with blood of anyone who dared to vote.

Nevertheless, they went out to the polls today. They took the step outside their home. When they woke up this morning, it was an open question, how many people would turn out to vote? Would people who have suffered for so long first under the reign of Saddam Hussein, then under the attacks of insurgents and foreign fighters, would they dare risk their lives to go and vote? And today they did.

Women and men, young and old, families brought their children with them. It was an extraordinary day here for anyone who has been to Iraq or who has simply watched this story unfold over the years. A day to remember, a day many people here will never forget, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there a huge sense of surprise at how relatively well it went in Baghdad, Anderson?

COOPER: You know, it's interesting. You hear from -- I was talking to an Iraqi man after the polls closed today. We were walking back together. And he said to me - he turned to me and said, "This was a good day in Baghdad." And he said that there was real surprise in his voice. It's really a phrase you don't hear -- people in Baghdad don't get to say very often.

I think there was a surprise. I think many Iraqis -- I think they had sort of guardedly hoped there would be a good result but, you know, given what the insurgents are capable, given what they have done in the past, given what they had promised to do today and in the days leading up to this, I think there was certainly a lot fear and a lot of trepidation and a lot of people just unsure of what would happen today. And, yes, there were people killed today.

You know, there were at least eight suicide attacks in Baghdad. People blowing themselves up -- trying to get to a polling station, someone blew themselves up on a bus, killed a number of people. Yes, there were mortar fire attacks today. Yes, there were grenade attacks today, and many people died and many more were wounded.

But nevertheless, this vote went off. And people did vote, and they did stand in line, and they did defy these insurgents who have in many ways ruled their lives over the last year, year and a half or so as this insurgency has heated up.

What tomorrow will bring, we don't know. There will be more bloodshed of course. There will be more violence. And perhaps this feeling of happy surprise may dissipate by tomorrow morning. But it is something a lot of people here are relishing right here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mood swings in Iraq, something that's occurred over these past couple of years.

Thanks, Anderson Cooper, very much, for that report. Let's move onto our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He's in Sulaymaniyah. That's in the northern part of Iraq, the Kurdish area. He's joining us live.

How did it go up there, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the day really got off to quite a brisk start. There were a lot of voters waiting outside the polling stations this morning, lining up, perhaps times 20, 30, 40, 50 of them coming to vote. What was very interesting was that many of them were women.

We looked to the ballot boxes at the end of voting today. They all appeared to be quite full. The election officials with the particular polling station we were monitoring said that they had used about three-quarters of their voting slips there. They said that that indicated to them that the turnout in their area was quite high.

Kurdish officials that we have talked to say that they have been pleased with the turnout. They say they've been particularly pleased in the contentious towns of Mosul and Kirkuk where there has been tensions and violence between Kurds and Arabs with the Sunni Arab insurgents inflicting violence on both of these cities recently.

But the Kurdish leaders saying that they were quite happy with the turnout in those location, better even than they'd expected. They did say, however, they were a little skeptical of some of the high turnout figures they'd heard, only they said, if based on the very fact they they knew that real, accurate correlation of the number of voters hadn't actually yet taken place, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they confident, the Kurds up in the north -- and you're spending a lot of time with them, Nic. Are they confident that this is the eve of a new Iraq in which the Kurds will be full partners in the Iraqi government that emerges?

ROBERTSON: They're really expecting to be, even if you will, better than full partners. They're hoping and expecting to get such representation in Iraq's national assembly that will it get them one of the three presidency position, even they say, if they do exceptionally well, which is perhaps on the upper edges of their calculations. They might even try and go for the top job of prime minister.

But they really see these elections as buying them that place at the table, buying them a very influential place. Indeed they say they cast themselves perhaps now more lessers outsiders, more as middle men in the process, that they, the Kurds who are also Sunnis as the Sunni Arab insurgents are, that they can help encourage the Sunni community into the political process.

And they really begin to see themselves here as middlemen between that Shia/Shiite majority and the Sunnis who have perhaps stayed away from the polls in greater numbers than any other community here today in Iraq. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Sulaymaniyah in the northern part of Iraq.

Nic, thank you very much.

And one of the men who returned from exile to lead his country -- he was away for 32 years -- is Adnan Pachachi. He's the former Iraqi governing council president, one of the most respected men in Iraq. He's now poised potentially to take a top position in the new Iraqi government.

I spoke with him just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Adnan Pachachi, thanks very much for joining us on this very important day.

What's your bottom-line assessment? How did it go?

ADNAN PACHACHI, FORMER PRESIDENT, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL: Well, I am encouraged. The results are much better than I had expected. And I think this is an important first step toward establishing a democratic system in Iraq.

BLITZER: It was only a few weeks ago when you were suggesting it might be necessary for a postponement of three months because of the security concerns. You must be relieved that those concerns apparently didn't materialize.

PACHACHI: Yes, I am very relieved. Actually we asked for the postponement because we wanted a more inclusive election. I hope that the turnout in some of these provinces that were on our mind will be better than we had expected. But we still have to wait for the final figures.

BLITZER: When will we know the final figures, the extent of the turnout? We're getting some preliminary numbers, which show about 70 percent. But we don't know how accurate that is.

PACHACHI: Yes, exactly. And I think probably we have to wait for a few hours when the final figures can be broadcast. But there is no doubt that...

BLITZER: What about the turnout in the Sunni areas?

PACHACHI: Well, I hear that the turnout in Mosul and in Fallujah has been far greater than we had expected, which is a very encouraging thing. But as I said, the final figures will probably not be known for another few hours. But on the whole, the situation is far more encouraging than we had expected.

And we hope that the new assembly would invite those parties that had not taken part in the election to join it in writing the constitution. This will pave the way for a far more inclusive election next time, at the end of this year.

BLITZER: What does it say about the power of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the other insurgents? They were warning that anyone who went and voted would be hunted down and killed. What does it say about that threat to you?

PACHACHI: Well, obviously, they could not carry out their threats either because they did not have the ability or because of the determination of the Iraqi people to really to oppose them and to defy them. And although, of course, some lives have been lost, unfortunately, during this day, but I think the level of violence has been less than we had feared.

BLITZER: One of the aspects of this election over the past couple days, there was extraordinary security, not only in Baghdad, but throughout the country of Iraq. You can't keep that level of high security where cars are effectively banned from the streets of Iraq -- you can't keep that kind of high-level security going on forever.

PACHACHI: No, of course not. I think in two days' time the situation will go back not to normal but what it was before the election. I mean obviously the elections were held in circumstances which are extremely unusual. I mean, there is nothing -- no election like it ever anywhere in the world, I think.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about what you expect now. What position would you like to see yourself emerge with in the coming weeks and months?

PACHACHI: Well, the main thing, I think, is we should really have a constitution written by representatives of all segments of Iraq's population. This will give it legitimacy and it will give it continuity.

And also I think it would improve the security situation and pave the way, as I said, to a more inclusive election at the end of the year. That's why I have proposed that very early we should invite all of the parties that have not taken part in the election to send representatives to join us in the national assembly in writing the constitution.

BLITZER: Do you want the national assembly to elect you as the president of Iraq?

PACHACHI: No, I'm not thinking of that at all, really, I assure you, Wolf. That's not in my mind. And anyway, that matter, I think, has to wait until the national assembly convenes. And then there will be all kinds of coalitions and discussions about all these things.

BLITZER: Who's your candidate, Mr. Pachachi? Who is your candidate to become the next prime minister in this new government that will emerge following this election?

PACHACHI: Well, I can't, I can't give you names because there are some very good people, really good candidates. But we'll have to see how we're going to -- how we're going to agree with the other parties concerned.

BLITZER: Let me throw out a few names of some of the candidates that have been widely mentioned. Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister. Do you support -- would you support him if -- is he someone you see as qualified to be the permanent prime minister in the next government?

PACHACHI: Well, of course I know Mr. Allawi quite well. And he, in fact, invited us to join in his list. But we declined. And we have preferred to enter the election on our own. Of course, we know him, and we know there are others who are also well-qualified.

And I really can't give you names now because all these things will have to be decided later on in the assembly when it's convened. And we don't know exactly how many votes we are going to get, how many votes they are going to get. So it is a little premature, I think.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we won't mention some of the other names then. But I will ask you about the longevity, the U.S. troop deployment in Iraq. What do you think? When will the U.S. begin to start -- be able to start withdrawing its troops from Iraq?

PACHACHI: Well, of course, a good deal would depend on the, on the level of violence and on the security situation. Anyway, next June, according to the Security Council resolution, there will be a review of the multinational force and its mandate. And maybe that will be the best time to discuss the future of the multinational force and, of course, U.S. presence in Iraq.

But all these things have to be discussed in the light of the security situation. And we have to come to some sort of agreement and then ask the United Nations to take the necessary decisions. I mean, we must remember that these forces are here at the request of the Iraqi government. And they Iraqi government has the right to ask for their removal at any time. But, of course, a lot will depend on the security situation in this country.

BLITZER: Can you imagine the next Iraqi government, at least in this year, the year 2005 asking the U.S. to withdraw its forces?

PACHACHI: Well, I mean, if the Iraqi forces have reached a level of training and equipment and weapons to enable them to deal with the security problems on their own, then, of course, the Iraqi government will probably ask for a phased withdrawal of the multinational force. But I don't know whether we have reached that stage yet.

BLITZER: Adnan Pachachi, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you, and good luck to all the people of Iraq.

PACHACHI: Thank you, Wolf. Always nice to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, did other countries and the United Nations do their share to help Iraqis vote? I'll speak live with Iraq's deputy United Nations ambassador. He's standing by. More of our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes," right after this.

Our Web question of the week asks this: Should the United States set a specific date to withdraw troops from Iraq? You can still vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results coming up later this hour.

We'll also have the latest on what happened on Iraq's election day. What were the dangers? What was the turnout? Much more coverage of this day.

You're watching our special "Iraq Votes," "LATE EDITION." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're bringing you the latest on what happened today in Iraq, the Iraqi elections.

One man who helped plan the road Iraq hopes to take toward democracy is the country's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Feisal Istrabadi. He's joining us here live.

Also with us, our own CNN analyst, Ken Pollack. His book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq," was cited by the Bush administration in defending its Iraq policy.

Gentleman, thanks very much for joining us.

I'll begin with you, Mr. Ambassador. I want you to listen to what Senator Kennedy said at a speech at Johns Hopkins University earlier this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: We have reached the point that a prolonged American military presence in Iraq is no longer productive for either Iraq or the United States. The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And his point being that the U.S. military is convincing the Iraqis they're under military occupation, as opposed to taking charge of their own day-to-day lives.

FEISAL ISTRABADI, IRAQI DEPUTY PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.N.: Well, obviously the senator from Massachusetts is free to say whatever he wants to for and on behalf of his constituents and as an American.

But I would appreciate his not arrogating to himself the right to speak on behalf of Iraqis. We have a sovereign government that can do that, and it is at the invitation of that sovereign government that American forces are in Iraq now.

And I expect that American forces will continue to be in Iraq after the transitional government emerges.

The fact of the matter is, we need American forces to keep the peace and to secure our borders. And until we are capable of handling those two tasks ourselves, the Americans and the multinational force will likely stay at the invitation of our government.

BLITZER: So you were pleased, the way things unfolded today?

ISTRABADI: Yes, I mean, things -- there are those pessimists, of whom I am sometimes accused of being one, who were very much afraid there would be much more violence than there in fact was.

Something clearly went right today. We don't know what levels of participation are. We won't for a time. But it appears that there is genuinely large buy-in across the country. Today has been a very positive day from what I can see.

BLITZER: The people, Ken Pollack, voted today, not just for the new assembly. They voted for actually three -- three separate issues were on the ballot: electing a 275-member national assembly; voting on 18 provincial councils, the 18 provinces of Iraq; and in the northern part Iraq, the Kurds voted for their own semi-autonomous -- a parliament for their own semi-autonomous region.

I think that, at least in the anecdotal reporting we're getting, everyone seems to be surprised at how relatively smoothly it went.

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: Well, I know that there is a lot of surprise out there.

I'll tell you, I'm not terribly surprised, because what I had been hearing from Iraqis in the run-up to the election was, Iraqis wanted to vote. They wanted very much to vote.

I think there were a whole lot of reasons, but I heard two in particular: For some, it was kind of closing a chapter on the past. This was their first opportunity to vote in a way that put Saddam Hussein's despotism behind them. And that was very important to these people, to finally exercise that kind of a right on their own, without having it enforced on them.

And second, for many others, it was a way of looking toward the future. You know, a lot of Iraqis, while they were glad to be liberated, have been disappointed in the course of reconstruction, so far, to a certain extent, disappointed with the United States. And for many Iraqis, this was a chance to elect their own government, which they think will be much more responsive to their needs.

BLITZER: The candidates, some of the names that have been out there -- and you know all of these political leaders, emerging as a new prime minister in addition to Iyad Allawi. Let me put some of the names up on the screen that we've seen to talk a little bit about what's going to happen in the next few weeks.

Ahmed Chalabi's name has been mentioned, Ibrahim Jafari, Adel Abdel-Mehdi and Hussain Shahristani. You know these individuals. What do you make of this potential list of prime ministers?

ISTRABADI: Well, I'll tell you what I make of it, Wolf. It is this, that for the first time in a very long time in our history, in over 50 years, we are going to have a government that we have freely chosen and freely elected.

It doesn't really matter to me who is prime minister, who's president, who has what job. The point is that we have started down a road where we are now being governed by our consent, by our own consent. And we know what the timetable is, we know when the terms of the next government expire.

And that is a tremendous step forward for Iraq. It is truly a momentous day for us today.

BLITZER: When you think about it historically, a couple of years ago Saddam Hussein was in power. Now we're even having lists of possible prime ministers, presidents, vice presidents. It is pretty dramatic, actually.

POLLACK: No, there's no question about it. And I think that, by any stretch of the imagination, by any way you want to put it, this is a very important step for Iraq.

And the fact that there is such a high turnout, I think for American viewers, what it really needs to show is that the Iraqis want reconstruction to succeed. They do want a democratic form of government. What they want is our help in realizing that dream.

BLITZER: We heard John Kerry on "Meet the Press" earlier today. I keep playing American politicians' soundbytes for you. Let me play you this one as well. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Now, I will say unequivocally today that what the administration does in these next few days will decide the outcome of Iraq. And this is -- not maybe -- this is the last time, last chance for the president to get it right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. I'll put you on the hot seat again, Mr. Ambassador. What do you think of that comment from John Kerry?

ISTRABADI: Well, with all respect again, of course the -- look, without the United States and without this administration, we would not have been liberated, we would not today be talking about an election and who may or may not emerge as possible contenders for whatever position.

We will always be grateful to the United States. We will always be grateful to the government of the United States and the United Kingdom and their various allies in the multinational force. But the people who are going to make a difference toward the success or failure, God forbid, of this project are the people of Iraq, the people who today defied bombs and terrorists and explosions and possible death so that they could vote in a free election.

These are the people who today emerged to regain control of their own futures, as any free peoples do, and it is we who will make the difference to the outcome of our country.

BLITZER: I assume you voted.

ISTRABADI: I most certainly did.

(LAUGHTER)

I have the purple finger to prove it.

BLITZER: I mean, even here? You went in New Carrollton, Maryland?

ISTRABADI: I did. Yes, that's right.

BLITZER: Let's show our viewers that. If we could get a closeup of that little finger.

(LAUGHTER)

That's a historic finger. Are you going to wash -- isn't that going to come off any time soon?

(LAUGHTER)

ISTRABADI: Well, I do wash it, you'll be pleased to know, and I'm told it'll take three, four, five days. So...

BLITZER: To keep it on. But that's like a badge of honor.

ISTRABADI: It is. It was a tremendous feeling. I'm 42 years old. This was the first time that I voted as an Iraqi.

BLITZER: So did you get emotional in that voting booth?

ISTRABADI: It was -- I was very much aware of the moment, let me say that.

BLITZER: Were all the ballots, even here in the United States, in English or in Arabic?

ISTRABADI: Well, I received an Arabic ballot. I believe they were in Arabic and Kurdish. I don't know if there were any English ballots, but I received an Arabic ballot.

BLITZER: Feisal Istrabadi, the deputy Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, on this very emotional day for you, thanks very much for joining us.

ISTRABADI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ken Pollack, always good to have you on our show. Thanks very much as well.

POLLACK: You're welcome.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll get the latest from our reporters watching the parade of events unfolding in Iraq.

We'll also go live to our colleague, Judy Woodruff. She's over at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington, D.C. She's speaking to some of the wounded troops.

Stay with our special, "Iraq Votes," "LATE EDITION."

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to go back to Iraq, this time the town of Kirkut. Joining us on the phone from there, Washington Post correspondent Steve Fainaru.

Steve, thanks very much for joining us.

What's it like up in Kirkut, which is an oil-rich area in the northern part of Iraq?

STEVE FAINARU, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, actually, I'm in Mosul, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

FAINARU: And it's -- I had a very interesting day. I was embedded with the C Company of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team here. And they were patrolling in one of the most problematic areas of the city.

And the voter turnout there was extremely low. And most of the people we talk to almost uniformly said that they were basically too scared to vote, that they wanted to vote but they just felt that they couldn't without endangering their lives.

BLITZER: So was it a major disappointment that that turnout was that low, or was that expected?

FAINARU: I think that the U.S. military and the Iraqis had hoped that there might be more people who would turn out. But I don't think anybody was surprised.

The military has had a lot of problems in that area. The platoon leader for C Company was shot dead last Saturday in that part of the city. And the insurgents had for the last month been spreading graffiti, essentially threatening to behead people, anyone who voted.

And so when the time came, people just were too -- there were literally people who were standing outside the polls saying they would like to vote but saying they were too afraid to go in.

BLITZER: Steve, a lot of people have said that Mosul, which is a major city in Iraq, is sort of a microcosm of the country as a whole. There are Kurds, there are Shiites, Sunnis, Turkomens. Is that a fair assessment of what's happening up -- the nature of Mosul?

FAINARU: I think it's too early to tell, honestly. I mean, I think you might be able to extrapolate that eventually, but I'm not really sure.

You know, there was a large turnout in Mosul in other parts of the city today. Now, I'm not really sure what what I saw today says except for that there are certainly parts of Iraq where the insurgents are still able to frighten people enough not to vote and where, at least in some parts, they do enjoy some support. So I think we can say that.

Now, whether what happened today in Mosul represents anything beyond that, I'm not so sure.

BLITZER: Steve Fainaru writes for The Washington Post; joining us from Mosul.

Appreciate it, Steve, very much. Be careful up there, and we'll have you back certainly on many occasions.

FAINARU: Thank you.

BLITZER: Mosul and indeed many cities and towns across Iraq pose danger at every turn for both Iraqis as well as U.S. and coalition troops.

Our Judy Woodruff is over at the Walter Reed U.S. Army Medical Center here in Washington. The danger is clearly dramatically evident as soon as you walk through the rooms there.

Judy, you spent some quality time there in the past few days. Tell our viewers what you found.

WOODRUFF: Well, Wolf, we've been introducing our viewers to just three of the thousands of young American men and women who were terribly injured in Iraq. Two of the three we met this week lost a leg. The third, the youngest, just 23 years old, he lost both of his legs.

I spent a morning with them here over the past week. I heard their stories. And, Wolf, I discovered that in the time they spent in Iraq, many months they spent in Iraq, they picked up some strong opinions about what's best for that country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SALAU: Iraq is going to be free. Iraq is going to have free elections. They're going to run their own nation without the help of our soldiers some day. And we've got to work toward it.

WOODRUFF: What do you think the prospects are in the longer term for the American -- for success and stability in Iraq?

MENDOZA: We need to understand other cultures. That's the biggest thing. A lot of people have the feeling that America is the greatest culture in the world. And it is a good culture. It has a great acceptance of everybody else, but it takes time. We're really going to have to appreciate and understand more of their culture to stop some of the conflict.

WOODRUFF: What's your sense of how long Americans are going to need to stay in there. Do you have a sense of that?

SIGMAN: It depends on the political leadership's determination. This is a little above my pay grade, but it's just my opinion. We can't duck out too soon, despite all the pressure from everyone else for us to do that. Because I don't want my brother, nephews, children to have to come back there in a few years and do it again. It was bad enough, in my opinion, that we didn't take care of this in the Gulf War back in '90, '91.

WOODRUFF: And for you, going forward, this becomes what part of your life? I mean...

SALAU: Actually I'm watching Iraq with the same passion as when I was there. Because if America pulls out too soon, if the coalition pulls out too soon, then my injury was in vain. And everything I did up until that day was in vain. As much as I can influence it, I'm not going to let that happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: They don't want their sacrifices to have been in vain.

And, Wolf, one final note: Sergeant Manuel Mendoza, the youngest of the three, is a Mexican immigrant. He came to the United States as a toddler. He applied for U.S. citizenship, and that citizenship came through just after he lost both of his legs, Wolf.

BLITZER: Judy, a lot of heartbreaking stories there indeed.

You know, these young men and women, they certainly would have the right to be bitter, angry, but I take it at least in the people that you met, you didn't find that.

WOODRUFF: I didn't find that, Wolf. It's truly -- it takes your breath away. You talk to them, and you're right, they would have every reason to be angry about what happened to them, to be resentful. Instead, they think about the fellows, the young men and women they served with who are still in Iraq. They're thinking about the sacrifice that other American service men and women are making. And they're thinking about what the United States has done.

And they want the United States to hang in there and make a difference. They all felt that way. Wolf?

BLITZER: On this day of the Iraqi elections, Judy Woodruff doing some excellent reporting for us on an important part of this story, a very important part of this story.

Judy, thank you very much.

Judy reporting from the Walter Reed U.S. Army Medical Center right here in Washington, D.C.

In Iraq, they'll be sorting out the vote and the long-term implications for several weeks. But can that country take any early lessons from the elections? We'll have our own senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He'll join us live to sort through what's going on.

Our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And welcome back.

For many Iraqis and for many of us, the election was a bewildering process, but our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, can sort it all out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The voters are under threat. Foreign troops occupy the country. Campaigning is limited. The candidates are mostly unknown.

What issues could be decided in an election held under those circumstances?

Is the U.S. occupation an issue? The insurgents charge that anyone who votes is siding with foreign occupiers. Why would any Iraqi risk his life to cast a ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To say that he was one of those who defied the terrorists and took the risk and helped to build a new Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: A vote is a statement against the insurgents. That's why turnout matters so much.

But what are Iraqis voting for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very much voting for the process itself. A lot of people are saying, "I don't care who I'm voting for, but I want to vote."

SCHNEIDER: Will Iraq hold together?

Sunni Arabs are the minority who used to rule Iraq. They face the prospect of losing power. If Sunnis don't vote, they won't get their fair share of seats in the national assembly that will draft a new constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we do not include that community in the process, we're simply handing in millions of people to the insurgency. SCHNEIDER: To avert civil war, the winners will have to reach out to the losers after the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many political groups and leaders who said, "Irrespective of what comes out of the elections, we're going to go out of our way to make sure the Sunnis are included in the process of drafting the constitution."

SCHNEIDER: Will Iraq have a religious government? Iraq could become the first Arab country with a Shiite government.

GHOSH: The list that is likely to get the largest number of votes at this moment is the list that has the blessings of the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

SCHNEIDER: But that would not necessarily mean a radical Islamic government. If Iraqis vote for religious leaders, it may simply be because they trust them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, by and large, Iraqis trust religion, but that does not necessarily mean they want a religious state.

SCHNEIDER: Will Iraq be a model of democracy? That's what the Arab world is asking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Arab world outside of Iraq is looking very closely at Iraq as to whether or not democracy and democratization is a plausible model for the Arab world.

SCHNEIDER: Iraq is now the big test for the Bush doctrine of spreading democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever happened in Iraq will be used either for or against this doctrine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The election is really the first test of the Bush doctrine, and so far it appears so good. But the ultimate test will be whether the new Iraqi government will be able to provide stability and security.

BLITZER: What about Iranian influence over Iraq?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Iranians seem enthusiastic about this election because they expect the Shia, their co-religionists, to come to power for the first time in an Arab state. So, there's a big question, how much influence will Iran have?

Keep this in mind: Iraq's Shiite population are Arabs. They're not Persian. And in the Iran-Iraq war, they fought loyally for Iraq, not for Iran.

BLITZER: As promised, Bill Schneider explains it all and does it very well.

Thanks very much, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

BLITZER: When we come back, Iraqis around the world celebrated their new right to vote. We'll check in on how that went right here in the United States, when our special "LATE EDITION: Iraq Votes" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Iraqis have been voting inside Iraq, but they've also been voting around the world, including here in the United States.

Joining us now, two guests to talk about that: June Chwa is with the Out-of-Country Voting Program that oversaw Iraqi voting in Southgate, Michigan. Jeremy Copeland is with the same group. He's joining us from suburban Washington, D.C., in New Carrollton, Maryland.

Thanks to both of you.

How did it go, by and large, June, from your perspective?

JUNE CHWA, OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING PROGRAM, SOUTHGATE, MICHIGAN: Well, here at the Southgate site, it's been absolutely exuberant. People have been breaking into song. They've been chanting. They've been reciting Iraqi poetry inside.

So, for us, it's been smooth for the last three days. You know, everyone has been terrific. The security people have been really efficient in getting people through. We've had busloads every day.

BLITZER: Jeremy, how did it go in New Carrollton, Maryland?

JEREMY COPELAND, OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING PROGRAM, NEW CARROLLTON, MARYLAND: It's been the same kind of scenes here as June just described and really right across the country, from my colleagues that I've spoken to in other cities.

One of the most encouraging things for us is, of course, seeing how far people are willing to go to be able to vote, how far they travel. In Nashville we had buses coming from Dallas. In Los Angeles yesterday we had about 100 people travel down from Seattle, about a 20-hour drive in each direction, just to vote, just to do something that of course so many people in this country take for granted.

BLITZER: June, this Out-of-Country Voting Program, who organized it? How did it get into being?

CHWA: Well, we all work for something called the International Organization for Migration. They organize a lot of out-of-country votes. For instance, the Afghani election for president of last year, they organized it in the two neighboring countries to Afghanistan.

So, it signed an agreement with the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq back in November, just 2 1/2 months ago, in order to do this infrastructure for the 14 countries around the world that are holding the out-of-country vote, and that's from Australia to Sweden to Canada to the U.S.

So, 2 1/2 months ago, our organization signed this contract, and we were asked to set up the infrastructure for voting. And it's been incredible, because, in those 2 1/2 months, we've gone here in the U.S. from a handful of employees to 1,200. And that's an immense achievement for all the people involved here.

BLITZER: And, Jeremy, finally, to you, what are you hearing from your colleagues around the United States and around the world, for that matter? Everyone thinking it went pretty smoothly, huh?

COPELAND: Yes, it did go very smoothly. And there's a lot of excitement amongst our staff. Of course, this is an Iraqi election, and we've hired a lot of Iraqis to work with us. Of the 7,000 people we have working on this project around the world, 86 percent are Iraqis. So, their enthusiasm is wonderful too, and it mixes with of course all the enthusiasm of everybody who's coming in to vote every day.

BLITZER: Jeremy Copeland and June Chwa, thanks to both of you. Thanks for your good work. Appreciate it very much.

CHWA: You're welcome.

COPELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our Web question of the week: Should the United States set a specific date to withdraw troops from Iraq? You've been voting for the past four hours. We'll tell you the results when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are the results of our Web question of the week. Take a look at this: The country evenly divided. Voting from around the world. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

Now let's take a look back at this historic day, the first free Iraqi elections in half a century.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: It may have been the force of arms that removed Saddam and created circumstances in which Iraqis could vote, but it was the force of freedom that was felt throughout Iraq today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very happy today. Very, very happy.

BUSH: Across Iraq today, men and women have taken rightful control of their country's destiny, and they have chosen a future of freedom and peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We never have any election before now. This is first time our life, in my life. I am 32 years old. I never seen any election, any freedom, so this is first time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of happy Iraqis today on this election day.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, January 30th. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Up next, a special edition of "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," all on the Iraqi election.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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