A woman casts her vote at a polling station during a
parliamentary election in Baghdad. Photo by Reuters
Iraqis are voting in their first national election since
U.S. forces withdrew in 2011, with Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki seeking a third term amid rising violence.
Iraq's western province of Anbar is torn by fighting as Sunni
Muslim militants battle the Iraqi military. Its economy is
struggling and Maliki faces criticism that he is aggravating
sectarian splits and trying to consolidate power.
Polls opened at 7am (local time) with a vehicle curfew in
Baghdad. Voters are choosing from among 9012 candidates and
the parliamentary election will effectively serve as a
referendum on Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim who has governed for
The elections went off in central Iraq and the south with few
hitches by mid-day, while turnout was low in Sunni regions,
where residents are often afraid of the security forces and
al Qaeda inspired militants.
The disparities were a reminder of the deep frictions now
between the country's Shi'ite majority and Sunnis.
Baghdad was quiet through late morning. The roads were dotted
with military checkpoints and people walked on foot to the
Humvees flanked the voting centres. Razor wire sealed off the
area as people passed multiple checkpoints to go inside to
vote. Several dozen army and police swarmed the street. The
seeming calm was a contrast to the 2010 elections, when the
capital was ripped by explosions, many of them sound bombs.
Maliki was among the first to vote in Baghdad at a hotel next
to the fortified Green Zone where the government is based. He
urged people to follow suit despite security threats.
"I call upon the Iraqi people to head in large numbers to the
ballot boxes to send a message of deterrence and a slap to
the face of terrorism," Maliki told reporters.
Political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority
in the 328-seat parliament. Forming a government may be hard
even if Maliki's State of Law alliance wins the most seats as
expected, although he was confident of another victory.
"Definitely our expectations are high," he said. "Our victory
is confirmed but we are still talking about how big this
victory will be," Maliki said. Polls close at 6pm.
Maliki faces challenges from Shi'ite and Sunni rivals and has
portrayed himself as his majority Shi'ite community's
defender against the Sunni, al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
He and his Shi'ite opponents both sought to present
themselves as best suited for tackling the current fight for
Anbar's two main cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
Iraq's Sunni political leaders paint Maliki as an
authoritarian ruler who wants to destroy their community. His
main Sunni rival, parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi,
vowed after voting he would never back a third term for
"We have set red lines. We will not ally with the current
prime minister in any case," Nujaifi told reporters.
The parliament speaker had recently said Sunnis suffered from
"terrorism and militias" under Maliki.
The mood among voters underscored division over who should
guide the country in this uncertain and turbulent period.
Many voters in Baghdad's prosperous and mainly Shi'ite
Karrada district expressed high hopes for Maliki.
"Maliki can defeat terrorism because ... he has the great
asset of the people's support. He has the experience and
knowledge," said Mahmoud Sadiq al Rubaie, a labourer.
In other places, such as the Shi'ite slum Sadr City, more
people spoke with disdain about the incumbent.
"We voted according to our sect and this sectarianism will
ruin Iraq," said Abu Sajjad, a taxi driver. "If Maliki will
be reelected, Iraq will be destroyed and things will get
TENSE SUNNI REGIONS
In Sunni parts of the country turnout seemed low in the early
part of the day, as the population in Salahuddin province,
north of Baghdad, and Diyala to the east of the capital
experienced violent incidents. ISIL, whose activities stretch
from Iraq to Syria, has threatened to kill anyone who votes
and is intent in exercising control over the Sunnis.
Twelve people were killed in Sunni parts of the country in
The most troubled province for elections remains Anbar. Iraqi
forces are locked in a four-month fight for the cities of
Ramadi and Fallujah. Troops surround Fallujah and are waging
street battles in Ramadi.
In Ramadi, people only started venturing to the polls late in
the morning. Snipers were perched on the rooftops of schools
used as voting centres. Army and police patrolled the
The war in Anbar has displaced an estimated 420,000 people.
The Iraqi electoral commission acknowledges it can only hold
the election in 70 percent of Anbar, not counting Fallujah.
Sunnis displaced from their homes but still living in Ramadi
had to walk across the conflict-ravaged town to polling
centres designated for them, according to a Reuters
Already, a prominent senior Sunni cleric Sheikh Abdul Malik
al-Saadi, originally from Anbar, called for people not to
vote after what he said was evidence of "violations, forgery,
and intimidating voters" in favour of "one party" on Monday
when soldiers cast their ballots.
Among Kurds in the semi-autonomous north, voters saw the
election as a chance to send a message to Baghdad that they
will defend their rights. The two sides are locked in a
dispute over who has the right to export Kurdish oil and what
should be the Kurdish share of the national budget.