14 killed as Iraq undergoes parliamentary polls

Iraqis Wednesday participated in their country’s first parliamentary elections since withdrawal of US forces in 2011. Held amid heavy security, the polls were still marred by dozens of attacks that left 14 people killed at different places.

Heavy security was in place, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police deployed to protect polling stations and a vehicle ban in Baghdad. But dozens of attacks targeting the election across Iraq left 14 people dead, BBC quoted officials as saying.

Over 21 million people were eligible to vote in this election in which more than 9,000 candidates from nearly 280 political entities were vying for 328 seats.

Over 8,000 voting centres across the country opened their doors at 7 a.m.(local time/4.a.m GMT) and were scheduled to close at 6 p.m.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking a third term, amid heightened sectarian tensions and worsening violence.

About 2,000 have been killed in the first three months of this year, during which Sunni tribesmen and militants linked to the jihadist Islamist State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have taken control of parts of Anbar province.

Voting was taking place in only 70 percent of Anbar Wednesday, with no polling stations open in the insurgent-held city of Falluja, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said. Voting was also limited in the provincial capital, Ramadi, where troops have been waging street battles for months.

In Baghdad, the streets were almost empty in the morning because the authorities had banned cars to prevent bombings. Many voters had to make their way to polling stations on foot. They faced multiple searches at checkpoints before being allowed to enter.

By early afternoon, national turnout stood at 30 percent, according to senior election commissioner Muqdad al-Sharifi. The vehicle curfew in Baghdad had been lifted partially to facilitate voting.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Al-Maliki said Wednesday he is “certain” that his party will win the country’s landmark parliamentary polls.

“Our expectations are great, and our opportunities are greater and our victory is certain, but we are waiting to see the size of our victory,” Maliki told reporters after casting his vote at a polling centre in a hotel in the heavily fortified Green Zone in downtown Baghdad.

Al-Maliki described the polls as a great success for Iraq despite the withdrawal of US troops from the country in 2011, Xinhua reported.

“Here we are today carrying out the elections with great success and better than the last one, even though there is no foreign soldier on our land,” he said.

“The next government will be built on a democratic basis,” he said, adding that the aim was to have a majority government to run the country.

According to Iraq’s constitution, the “largest bloc” in parliament will have the right to nominate a prime minister to form the cabinet.

The federal Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the “largest bloc” can mean either the largest electoral coalition or the largest coalition formed after the elections.

The ruling, in addition to a modified seat-allocating electoral system that decreases the advantages previously granted to larger parties, has prompted many major parties and prominent politicians to avoid forming larger electoral coalitions that sometimes include members with conflicting interests.

The last parliamentary elections in March 2010 saw continuing disputes over vote counting, legal interpretations and alliance negotiations, which resulted in more than eight months of political deadlock.