Iraq holds crucial general election amid violence

10:47, March 08, 2010      

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by Li Laifang, Jamal Ahmed

Iraq held its national voting for the country's crucial parliamentary election on Sunday, amid multiple mortar attacks and bombings mainly in the capital Baghdad which left at least 37 dead.

This is the second national poll since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. It is a crucial election as the country is struggling to restore peace after years of violence and preparing itself for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of next year.

Around 19 million voters, including 1.4 million abroad, were set to elect a 325-seat Council of Representatives out of some 6, 300 candidates, representing 12 major coalitions of parties and dozens of other political entities. There are 50,000 stations across the country.


At around 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) when the voting began, Iraqi President Talal Talabani entered a voting center in his hometown of northern Sulaimaniyah Province. He was one of the first to vote on Sunday. The voting ended at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) local time.

"I congratulate the great Iraqi people and I call on them to take part in this crucial election which will determine the fate of democracy in Iraq," said Talabani after casting his vote. "I wish the success for the Iraqi people with this elections."

In a polling center in the heavily fortified Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki cast his vote. He leads the "State of Law" coalition to contest the election.

"In my opinion this election will lead to a change in the Iraqi political map, and I believe that the change process has started since the 2009 January provincial elections," Maliki told reporters. "Today the change process will be achieved in the direction that would lead to a stable government and parliament. This will reflect the situation in Iraq and the relations of Iraq with its Arab neighbors and in the international arena," he said.

"I can see that Iraqis realize the significance of their voices despite terrorist attacks aimed at preventing them from participating in the elections," said the prime minister.

"My knowledge about Iraqis is that whenever there is a challenge, there is persistence," Maliki told media in the Green Zone.

Eligible Iraqis showed a great interest in the voting.

"I vote for Maliki as I believe the security has been improved in the past few years," said 55-year-old Batol Ali, a Shiite in the Baghdad's Al-Adil district.

She and her husband walked to the polling center, 150 meters far from their home. During the peak of sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, her family was forced to flee to Syria and stayed there for about one year.

"I vote for the head of the Iraqi Communist Party as I think this group is against sectarianism and can work for the whole Iraqi people," said her husband, Fadil Abd, 59, a retired engineer from a state-run company.

"We hope that we choose the right persons and the next government will try to provide citizens with basic needs," he said. The family only has eight to 10 hours of electricity and relies on a generator for extra use.

Other provinces also saw high turnout of voters despite attacks.

Up to 667,000 voters in the Sunni-dominated Salahudin province poured into polling centers to elect 22 lawmakers out of 303 candidates to represent the province.

Early on Sunday morning, the turnout was low as some mortar rounds hit the cities of Samarra and Baiji, along with roadside bombs in other areas, wounding three electoral observers from a political bloc. But later more voters went to the polls.

"I have voted Ayad Allawi, because I believe he is the best for Iraq in the coming stage," said Awad Ahmed, a 40-year-old farmer.

Fatima Novan, 51, came early in the morning to a polling station. "I hope the elections will bring about a new government that can rescue Iraq from violence," said the housewife.

Nineveh province and its capital city of Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad, also witnessed a series of mortar rounds and bomb attacks mainly in Mosul, in which one civilian was wounded.

The blasts hampered the voters early Sunday morning, but later dozens of thousands thronged to the polling centers.

Ahead of Sunday's election, an early voting among 800,000 Iraqi security forces, prisoners and hospital staff, was held on March 4. The ballot for some 1.4 million Iraqis in 16 countries abroad started on March 5 and ended Sunday.

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