Iraqis vote for first time since Islamic State defeat

Iraqi citizens voted Saturday for the first time in parliamentary elections since their government declared the defeat of the Islamic State in December

An Iraqi man casts his ballot during the parliament elections Saturday at a polling station in Baghdad. For the first time, voting was conducted electronically. Photo by Ali Abbas/EPA
An Iraqi man casts his ballot during the parliament elections Saturday at a polling station in Baghdad. For the first time, voting was conducted electronically. Photo by Ali Abbas/EPA

Although Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on “all Iraqis” to take part in the election, Al Jazeera reported that participation appeared to be low. A 24-hour curfew by the government since midnight, which was partially lifted by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi later in the day, appeared to keep turnout low. And security was tightened after the Islamic State threatened to disrupt polling stations.
A total of 24.5 million residents were registered and for the first time voting was conducted electronically.

Results will be released within 48 hours after polls closed at 6 p.m., according to the independent body overseeing the elections.

Voting sites opened nationwide at 7 a.m. for 6,990 parliament candidates from 87 parties. Nearly 2,011 female candidates are guaranteed 25 percent — 83 — of the seats. Also, nine seats will be allocated to minorities. All seats are four-year terms.

The prime minister post is reserved for a Shiite under the power-sharing system. But there are five major Shiite coalitions.

Al-Abadi, who took over in 2014, has pledged to be more inclusive of Iraq’s Sunni minority. Shia have had greater influence over Iraqi politics since the 2003 U.S-led toppling of Saddam Hussein. Kurds have held the presidency and the Sunnis have the parliament speaker post.

With no one group expected to able to win the 165 seats required for an outright majority, an alliance will needed to be formed among the blocs.

Al-Abadi cast his ballot in his home district of Baghdad and he was seen being patted down by a security officer.

“Today Iraq is powerful and unified after defeating terrorism, and this is a huge achievement for all Iraqis,” he said after casting his vote.

His opponents and other members of Iraq’s political power voted in al-Rashid Hotel inside Baghdad’s guarded Green Zone. They included former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and Hadi al-Ameri, the head of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militias.

Maliki and Ameri have criticized the sitting prime minister for his pro-U.S. stances and are closer to Iran than Abadi.

Several candidates said they want Iraq to be less dependent on oil revenue but favor foreign investment and growth of a private sector. The country has high unemployment.

By Allen Cone