Iraq election sees more than 60 percent turnout

Iraq's 22 million registered voters are electing a 328-seat parliament amid a massive security operation in the country

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The polls have closed in the parliamentary election in Iraq in what was the first ballot since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.

There was a low turnout on Wednesday as fresh waves of violence continued across the country.

While twenty-two million Iraqis were eligible to vote, turnout was around 60 percent, reported Agence France-Presse.

Iraqis are electing 328 parliament members from more than 9,000 candidates.

Election officials did not confirm a time schedule for the release of the results, but they were expected to trickle in during the coming days.

Current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is seeking a third term in power as the country faces its worst violence levels in years, much of which is blamed on the leader.

Political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority at the parliament, adding that forming a new government may be a difficult task even if Maliki’s State of Law alliance, expected to win the election, gets the majority of seats.

Iraqis vote as they struggle with poor public services, a widely spread corruption, spiraling unemployment and a security situation which has dramatically worsened in recent months.

A bomb near a polling station in north Iraq killed two women on Wednesday, officials said, as voters cast their ballots under tight security following a surge of pre-election violence.

The blast occurred in the town of Dibs, near the ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, according to a police official and a doctor at a nearby hospital.

Elsewhere, militants seized another polling station in north Iraq, evacuated election staff and voters and set off explosives, destroying the building, according to a security official and an election commission employee.

Police and army checkpoints were placed roughly 500 meters apart, while pickup trucks with machine-guns perched on top roamed the streets.

Sectarian bloodshed began to spiral out of control in Iraq by 2006, with Sunni militants and Shiite militias butchering each other.
Later on, American-backed Sunni tribes rose up to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Maliki is criticized for aggravating the sectarian split in the country. He has portrayed himself as the defender of his Shiite community against the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Earlier this week, Maliki vowed to stop the al-Qaeda-linked ISIS from entering Baghdad.

“Is ISIS and al-Qaeda capable of reaching the target for they were established ... bringing down Baghdad and the other provinces and destroying the holy shrines? ... I say no,” Maliki said.

“ISIS is over, but its pockets still exist and we will keep chasing them and the few coming days will witness major developments,” he added.

The group’s violence continued till a day before the vote, as they claimed responsibility for a Monday suicide bombing in northeast Baghdad, which killed at least 25 Kurds.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised on Wednesday the millions of Iraqis who "courageously voted" in the general elections despite surges of violence against polling stations.

Kerry said voters acted "heroically" in standing up to militant threats.

"With ink-stained thumbs, Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress and sow discord in Iraq and throughout the region," he said in a statement.

(With AFP, AP and Reuters)

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