Iraq in first vote since US pullout

The BBC's Rafid Jabboori said most voters would be swayed by sectarian and ethnic affiliations

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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.

Analysis

At polling stations I went to in central Baghdad the turnout was not impressive - nothing like the long queues of Iraqis waiting to cast their votes as the whole world watched in 2005 after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Local councils in Baghdad and most of central and southern Shia Iraq are controlled by members of the party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The party won by a landslide four years ago but public services such as water and electricity supplies, education and healthcare, did not improve significantly. Nevertheless, several voters told me that they voted for the incumbent.

Many Shia are sceptical about the real motives of months-long Sunni anti-government protests in western Iraq. Once more, the electoral process in Iraq proves to be more about identity than policies.

I asked Haider - an enthusiastic voter - why he thought the turnout was low. He said that people were afraid of violence. "But I would not let that put me off. I don't want to lose my vote and my right - it's a battle and we have to win it."

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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