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On election eve, optimism prevails in Iraq

On the eve of Thursday's election in Iraq, there is a sense of anticipation  amid emerging signs of new freedoms. NBC's Richard Engel reports from Baghdad.

Iraq is in lockdown — with a curfew, closed borders and traffic banned. In Baghdad Wednesday, children turned empty streets into impromptu soccer fields.

On the eve of Thursday's election, there is a sense of anticipation here and emerging signs of a new Iraq. There was a fashion show this month, and a film festival.

On Baghdad's Wall Street, businessmen say the war has been worth it. Hearts and minds have been won with profits at the Baghdad stock exchange, bustleing with deals and dreams.

"Amid all this war and lack of security, we are among the rare institutes that are successfully doing business," says one broker.

Without computers, traders take orders by phone and by hand. An average of $3 million in shares trades each day, 10 times the amount under Saddam Hussein.

There's optimism, too, at Iraq's first and only radio station run by women, for women. Anchor Shaimaa Mohammed says America brought her political freedom.

"Americans didn't destroy our country," she says. "They freed us from a dictator."

But like many Iraqis, she said U.S. troops should start to pull out. A private Iraqi poll this week found that nearly 100 percent of Iraqis want U.S.-led coalition troops to leave Iraq. Forty percent said "immediately," but 60 percent said foreign troops should stay until Iraq is more stable.

At the "Baghdad Classic Gym," young men complained that even they don't stay out after 9:30 at night. Twenty-six-year-old Aaed Sabbah was unemployed before the war — now he's a security guard. The only problem is the security, he says.

We also asked Iraqis if they blame America for the violence. Do they resent U.S. troops? Some did, but we found more Iraqis are angry with their own government for being ineffective. Most told us they plan to express their frustrations Thursday at the ballot box.