Iraq holds first polls since US pullout as attacks spike
Baghdad: Iraqis voted on Saturday in the country's first polls since US troops departed, a key test of its stability in the face of a spike in attacks that has claimed more than 100 lives. But the credibility of the provincial elections has come into question, with attacks on candidates leaving 14 dead and a third of Iraq's provinces -- all of them mainly Sunni Arab or Kurdish -- not even voting. "I came this early because I was very excited to vote. I think some of the current provincial council members did not do a good job," university student Abdulsahib Ali Abdulsahib, 22, told AFP at a polling station in central Baghdad after voting began at about 7:00 am (0400 GMT).
"Security is the most important problem that all of them should be working for; without this, life would be so difficult. I hope this is the first thing they work towards." Voters were searched twice before being allowed to enter, and Iraqi security forces had a heavy presence in the area. Only pre-approved vehicles were allowed on the streets, largely deserted except for police and soldiers. Security forces fielded large presences elsewhere in the country, but measures were toughest in Baghdad.
Despite the tight restrictions, militants were still able to carry out attacks, though casualties were limited. Overall, eight mortar rounds, one roadside bombing and three stun grenades, all outside Baghdad, left one policeman wounded, officials said. The elections are the first since parliamentary polls in March 2010 and also the first since US troops withdrew in December 2011.
An estimated 13.8 million Iraqis are eligible to vote for more than 8,000 candidates, with 378 seats being contested. Every Iraqi who votes "is saying to the enemies of the political process that we are not going back," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on state television after casting his ballot at the Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone.