The first votes have been cast in the Iraqi elections, by Iraqi expatriates living overseas. Unlike most Iraqis, they can vote with the security you'd expect in any decent democracy - but even then some are staying away for fear of endangering relatives still living in Iraq. Which gives you some idea of the amount of fear there is about this.
As for Iraqis actually living in Iraq, they face not only the threat of suicide bombs at the polling booth (journalists in Baghdad are apparently running a macabre pool on how many minutes it will take for the election to rack up its first atrocity), but also that of later retribution. And while President Bush is urging them to "defy the terrorists", any black American over the age of 60 could tell him it's not that easy. Southern rednecks were able to suppress the African-American vote for decades simply by threat of beatings; fear of a bullet in the back of the head is likely to be an even more powerful deterrent.
On the optimistic side, there seems to be a genuine desire to vote; it's just a question of how many people are willing to risk dying for it. And there are plenty of people who have chosen to seek change through the ballot box rather than the gun - even some of Saddam's former generals. Some Iraqis want to make it work, and this is a Good Thing. Unfortunately, they'll have to contend with those who are not so keen trying to stop them. I guess all we can do is hope for the best.
But quite apart from the threat of violence, there is an important sense in which the entire exercise is a charade: the most significant locus of power in Iraq today - the US occupying forces - will not be subjected to any form of democratic discipline through these elections. Whatever government eventually comes out of this process will not be able to order a change in their rules of engagement, investigate their actions, or hold them to account for their abuses. Because of America's prickly sense of nationalism, those decisions will be reserved for Americans, and thus made in American interests rather than those of the people whose interests they are supposedly acting in. And as a result, they will continue to act like a marauding army of occupation, with little respect for Iraqi civilian lives - rather strange, considering that the entire occupation is supposed to be being waged on behalf of those they are so casually killing.
In other words, the problem with the Iraqi elections is that they do not go far enough...