"I challenge them. I will vote in spite of them!"

But not even 24 hours after being injured in a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, Mr. Tamimi cast a ballot from his hospital bed, joining hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis who voted Thursday in an early round reserved for security forces, detainees, and hospital patients who might not be able to make it to the polls for Sunday’s parliamentary election.

“I challenge them. I will vote in spite of them!” Tamimi, the head of health services in Diyala province, said of the bombers. “This is our chance to elect a better future for Iraq.”…

In Baghdad’s market district of Kadhemiya, a group of Iraqi soldiers ate falafel sandwiches and proudly displayed ink-stained fingers that marked them as voters. They also reflected on how much stronger the military is as an institution now that they’re more professional and battle-tested and they operate under an Iraqi command that no longer answers to Americans…

“Before, we didn’t feel safe standing at our checkpoints and the people didn’t feel safe going through them, wondering who it really was checking them,” said Riyadh Hassan, a young soldier from Diyala, who’s stationed in Baghdad. “Now we wear our uniforms proudly and walk in the streets.”