Iraqis begin voting as violence grips a divided country
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 01:59
April 30 - Iraqis vote amid tight security in the first parliamentary elections since the withdrawal of US troops. Sarah Toms reports.
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STORY: Iraqis head to the polls in their first election since US forces withdrew from Iraq three years ago.
Voters must choose from among more than 9,000 candidates but the ballot is really being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim who has governed for eight years.
He's facing criticism he's aggravating the sectarian splits as he tries to consolidate power.
A growing insurgency between Sunni Muslim militants and the military is tearing apart the west of the country.
Iraq is experiencing its worst unrest since 2008, with 160 people killed in the past week alone.
Security has been heightened ahead of the election, and some voters face multiple searches before being allowed into polling stations.
But the Prime Minister, who was among the first to vote, urged Iraqis to do the same despite the security threats.
(SOUNDBITE) (ARABIC) IRAQ'S PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, SAYING:
"On this occasion I call upon all Iraqis to go to ballot boxes and participate in a large numbers in the election because those who will take part in the election will have a right to monitor and ask questions, just as those who will not take part in the election will have no right. I do not want any citizen to miss his right in monitoring the election, I wish to see a huge turnout, God willing we will celebrate a successful election and defeat terrorism, and those who bet on election postponement. "
Maliki faces challenges from Shi'ite and Sunni rivals but political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority in the 328-seat parliament.
(SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) IRAQI RESIDENT, SAAD JASSIM, SAYING:
"We hope there will be a change, but it is only a hope, but I do not think that new faces will come to power. I do not think that there will be a big change. I think that old faces will remain in control, but we hope for a simple change."
But don't expect a result any time soon.... forming a government may be hard even if Maliki's State of Law alliance wins the most seats as expected.
It took nine months to seat a government after the last national election in 2010, a vote that took place with tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers still in Iraq.
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