Iraqis voted on Saturday in the country’s first polls since 2010, a key test of its stability in the face of a spike in attacks that has claimed more than 100 lives over the past week.
But the credibility of the provincial elections has come into question, with attacks on candidates leaving 14 dead and a third of Iraq’s provinces – all of them mainly Sunni Arab or Kurdish – not even voting.
“I came this early because I was very excited to vote. I think some of the current provincial council members did not do a good job,” university student Abdulsahib Ali Abdulsahib, 22, told AFP at a polling station in central Baghdad after voting began at about 7:00 am.
Voters were searched twice before being allowed to enter, and Iraqi security forces had a heavy presence in the area. Only approved vehicles were allowed on the streets, largely deserted except for police and soldiers. Security forces fielded large presences elsewhere in the country, but measures were toughest in Baghdad.
Despite the tight restrictions, militants were still able to carry out attacks, though casualties were limited.
Overall, eight mortar rounds, one roadside bombing and three stun grenades, all outside Baghdad, left one policeman wounded, officials said.
The elections are the first since parliamentary polls in March 2010 and also the first since US troops withdrew in December 2011.
An estimated 13.8 million Iraqis are eligible to vote for more than 8,000 candidates, with 378 seats being contested.
Every Iraqi who votes “is saying to the enemies of the political process that we are not going back,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on state television after casting his ballot at the Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone.
The polls are seen as a gauge of Maliki’s popularity ahead of a general election next year, but major issues affecting voters such as poor public services and rampant corruption have largely been ignored during the campaign. “I don’t believe this election will provide a magic solution for the problems of Iraqis, and the problems in the country,” said Ihsan al-Shammari, a politics professor at Baghdad University.
The lead-up to the vote was blighted by a rise in violence that left more than 100 people dead in the past week and 14 election candidates killed since campaigning began.
A wave of car bombings and other attacks Monday killed at least 55 and wounded more than 200. Attacks have continued throughout the week, including a suicide bombing at a packed cafe late Thursday that left 32 dead.
Six of Iraq’s 18 provinces are not participating – two because authorities say security cannot be ensured, and four because of various political disagreements. The results, which are not expected for several days. (AFP, AP)