BAGHDAD (Xinhua) — Millions of Iraqis headed Saturday to polling stations across the country to elect the next parliament, for the first time after defeating the Islamic State (IS) group.
The polls kicked off at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) as voters lined up to cast their ballots.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hailed the election as an important achievement of the Iraqi people after defeating the IS terrorists and unifying the country.
“This election is decisive for Iraq’s future, so the voters should actively participate in the voting,” Abadi told state TV Al Iraqiya after casting his ballot at Karrada polling center in the capital Baghdad.
Iraq’s President Fuad Masum, a Kurd, cast his vote at a polling center inside the Royal Tulip Alrasheed hotel in the heavily fortified Green Zone, Baghdad.
He said there exists a channel of dialogue between the central government and the Kurdistan region, when asked about post-election ties between the two sides which were strained after the independent referendum by the Kurds in the northern Kurdistan region last September.
Iraq’s Vice President Nuri al-Maliki, head of State of Law Coalition, was the first top official to cast his vote at the same polling center. “This is an important day in Iraq’s history,” Maliki told reporters.
“Election is the only way to give democracy a success, and I call on all the people to choose whoever they believe as proper person to be their representative,” Maliki said.
At the first minutes after the opening of a polling center in Salhiyah neighborhood in downtown Baghdad, Kamil Khudir was very happy to be the first to cast vote.
“I hope the election would bring about a better life for the Iraqis after years of chaos, violence and poor governance,” he told Xinhua.
In response to IS threats to disrupt the voting, Iraqi government has deployed a large number of security forces across the country, creating a three-layer protection for all polling stations.
Still, there were sporadic attacks in the provinces of Salahudin and Diyala.
An explosive device was detonated near a polling station in Mes’hag area of Salahudin province Saturday, killing four security guards. In Diyala’s provincial capital Baqubah, security forces killed two suicide attackers.
About 24 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the race in which around 7,000 candidates are vying for 329 seats in the parliament.
The 8,959 polling stations across the country will close at 6:00 p.m. local time (1500 GMT). The election results are expected to be announced in 24 hours afterwards.