Iraqis voted for provincial council members on Saturday in an election many hoped would be more inclusive of ethnic and tribal sects than the 2005 national elections widely boycotted by Sunnis and Sadrists. As the U.S. military presence in Iraq diminishes, the elections are seen by some as a test of Iraq’s ability to govern independently, maintain security gains, and build a governing coalition of diverse ethnic groups.
Elections occurred in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces, with over 14,000 candidates running for 440 seats. Unlike the elections in 2005, voters could select candidates individually and were not limited to selecting pre-made “lists” of candidates. President Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party is hoping to gain power in southern predominantly-Shiite provinces, four of which are currently controlled by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr.
Voting was postponed in three predominantly Kurdish provinces in the North until January, and indefinitely postponed in the province surrounding Kirkuk. Control of these regions is hotly contested between Arab, Kurdish and Yazidi groups that have been unable to reach a power-sharing agreement.
Security for the elections was extremely high, with driving prohibitions and more than 6,000 checkpoints throughout the country. No election-related deaths were reported during the day.
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