Middle East

Iraq in first vote since US pullout

Media captionThe BBC's Rafid Jabboori said most voters will be swayed by sectarian and ethnic affiliations

Iraqis have voted in a provincial election, the first ballot since the departure of US troops in late 2011.

Iraqi forces took charge of security in an election for the first time since the 2003 invasion.

There has been widespread violence in the run-up to the election, and the Shia-led government has postponed the vote in two Sunni-dominated provinces.

Election officials put the turnout at around 50%, Reuters news agency said. Results are not expected for days.

Correspondents say the vote is a test of political stability in Iraq, 10 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Almost 14 million Iraqis were eligible to vote for more than 8,000 candidates competing for 378 seats in provincial councils. The proportion that voted was similar to the election in 2009.

In the past week, dozens of people have been killed in bombings targeting mainly Shia areas.

Two polling stations have also been attacked.

Fourteen contenders, most of them Sunnis, have been murdered.

But only a handful of attacks were reported on polling day itself. Mortar rounds and small bombs exploded close to polling stations, injuring at least four people.

'Most important problem'

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged people to vote in defiance of "enemies of the political process".

"I say to all those who are afraid for the future of Iraq and afraid of a return of violence and dictatorship that we will fight by casting ballots," he said.

On polling day, some voters said their main concern was still the security situation.

"Security is the most important problem that all of them should be working for; without this, life would be so difficult," said student Abdulsahib Ali Abdulsahib, who was out early to vote in central Baghdad.

Voters were searched twice before being allowed to enter polling stations in the capital, and security forces were patrolling in great numbers.

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