Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

First Iraq poll since US withdrawal

Election officials begin counting the results after the polls closed at the country's provincial elections in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday (AP)

Iraqis braved the fear of violence on Saturday to vote in the first election since the US military withdrawal, though delayed voting in some parts of the country and an apparently lacklustre turnout elsewhere has cast doubt about the credibility of the vote.

Candidates are vying for seats on provincial councils that have sway over public works projects and other decisions at the local level.

The vote is an important barometer of support for Iraq's various political blocs heading into next year's parliamentary elections. Electoral blocs which succeed in a given province could translate that influence into a broader support for the 2014 vote.

The election was carried out without large-scale bloodshed, although officials ratcheted up security precautions to thwart insurgent attempts to disrupt the vote.

The election was a test of the Iraqi army and police, who face a reviving al Qaida insurgency and are for the first time since the 2003 US-led invasion security an election on their own.

Security cordons were set up around polling places and only authorised vehicles were being allowed on the streets in major cities. Voters dipped an index finger in ink after casting ballots to ensure that each person voted only once.

By early afternoon, the UN special representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, said the voting was going smoothly. He urged Iraqis to the polls, saying "the credibility of the elections depends also on the turnout".

There were reports of scattered violence, but no fatalities. Six people were reported wounded. Mortar shells struck near voting centres in Baghdad and in the towns of Mahmoudiya, Latifiyah and Mussayib, south of the Iraqi capital, as well as in Samarra, to the north, according to police and hospital officials.

A bomb went off near a polling centre in the southern town of Jibala while stun grenades, which emit a bright flash and loud bang, were thrown at polling centres in the towns of Iskandariyah and Beiji.

Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi described the security situation as stable. He told state TV: "The police and army are deployed everywhere to make sure the election day and polling stations are secured. We call upon all the people to go out and cast their ballots because it the best way to face terrorism."

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