Iraqis go to polls in regional elections
Vote is first since US military withdrawal and key test of country’s stability
Children walk by a machinegun post near election centre in Baghdad today. Photograph: Wissm al-Okili/Reuters
Iraqis cast ballots in regional elections today amid tight security, marking the country’s first vote since the US military withdrawal and a key test of its stability.
The results will not directly affect the shape of Iraq’s national government. But the vote will be an important barometer of support for Iraq’s various political blocs heading into 2014 parliamentary elections, and the outcome could exacerbate sectarian tensions.
Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines with prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's government mired in crisis over how to share power among Shias, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who run their own autonomous region in the north.
Violence and suicide bombings have surged since the start of the year with a local al-Qaeda wing vowing a campaign to stoke widespread confrontation among the country's combustible sectarian and ethnic mix.
The vote will also test the Iraqi army and police, who are for the first time since the 2003 US-led invasion securing an election on their own.
Security cordons are set up around polling places, and only authorised vehicles are being allowed on the streets in major cities.
Voters dipped an index finger in ink after casting ballots to ensure each person voted only once.