Iraqis vote in parliamentary polls in security clampdown

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Baghdad: "The capital is in lockdown"

Iraqis have voted in their country's first parliamentary elections since the withdrawal of US forces in 2011.

Heavy security was in place, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police deployed to protect polling stations and a vehicle ban in Baghdad.

Dozens of attacks targeting the election across Iraq left 14 people dead, officials say.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is seeking a third term, declared that his victory was "certain".

"Today is a big success, and even better than the last elections, even though there is no foreign soldier on Iraqi soil," he told reporters.

Analysis

The arithmetic of security in Iraq is a grim business; there were about 50 attacks on the election process around the country, including mortar fire directed at polling stations and roadside bombs timed to kill men and women on their way to vote.

But in the context of a week leading up to the vote in which 160 people died, the authorities will probably feel the election was a success in spite of the deaths reported.

Public safety in Baghdad was achieved with an extraordinary operation. The main airport was closed and so many roads were shut down that children played football at what are normally busy intersections.

The casualty figures aren't the only numbers that matter. The turnout figure is a test of the credibility of the electoral process and then comes the tortuous number-crunching of coalition building that might well take months.

Official results are not expected until May.

The polls came amid heightened sectarian tensions and worsening violence.

Last year, the death toll in Iraq was the highest since the peak of the sectarian insurgency in 2006 and 2007.

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

Curfew lifted

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said voting had taken place in only 70% of Anbar on Wednesday, with no polling stations open in the insurgent-held city of Falluja. Voting was also limited in the provincial capital, Ramadi, where troops have been waging street battles for months. Provisional estimates put turnout at about 60% in those areas that voted.

The streets of Baghdad were almost empty in the morning because of a ban on vehicles, but this was soon lifted to facilitate voting.

Despite the heavy security presence, officials reported more than 50 attacks on polling stations and people on their way to vote in northern and western Iraq, the AFP news agency said.

Voters frisked in Baghdad, 30 April Baghdad saw tight security in a move to try to prevent suicide and car bomb attacks
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki votes, 30 April PM Nouri Maliki, who cast his ballot in Baghdad, will be a pivotal figure in post-election coalition making
Women voters in Baghdad, 30 April Correspondents say there is likely to be a lengthy period of post-poll horse trading
Electoral workers count ballots under lamplight due to a power cut, as polls close at a polling centre in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city Electoral workers in Basra used lamps to count ballots after a power cut

They included mortar fire, roadside bombings and a suicide blast.

At the scene

Unlike in the rest of Iraq, the election campaign here has not been badly marred by violence. The Kurdish region has been enjoying an unprecedented degree of self rule, stability and economic prosperity since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

But it is not all rosy. Kurdish parties failed to form a government after last September's regional elections, from which no single party emerged as an outright winner.

For the Kurds, these national elections will be another chance to assert their role in the politics of Iraq. As two voters in traditional Kurdish clothing cast their ballots early in the morning, they told me they were voting for a democratic and federal Iraq.

For them that means significant representation for the Kurds in the central government and recognition for the distinct Kurdish identity.

In the northern town of Dibis, a bomb targeted a car carrying IHEC employees, killing two, while in Baiji a policeman died when he jumped on a suicide bomber to protect voters from the blast.

Police also shot and killed a would-be suicide bomber before he could blow himself up near a polling station in the northern city of Mosul.

After a week in which 160 people died, the authorities will probably feel the vote was a success, in spite of the deaths reported, the BBC's Kevin Connolly says.

Twenty-two million people were eligible to vote in the elections, with 276 political entities and 9,000 candidates contesting the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of the poll, Mr Maliki is still expected to be a pivotal figure in the coalition-building process which will follow the election.

His Shia-dominated State of Law alliance has largely avoided the fragmentation seen by other political blocs since the last election.

It took nearly 10 months to assemble a government after the last election in 2010, and a similar period of negotiation is also expected on this occasion.

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