Date registered: Sep 2004
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Iraqis vote amid tight security
News Middle East
Iraqis vote amid tight security
Voters will face searches as they go to the polls
in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces [AFP]
Iraqi security forces have banned traffic from the streets of major cities and will search all voters as the country holds provincial elections.
About 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the polls being held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces on Saturday.
More than 14,000 candidates are competing for 440 seats.
The polls, which are seen as a test of the security situation in Iraq, opened at 7am (04:00GMT) on Saturday and will close ten hours later.
Results are not expected for several days.
Iraq's provincial councils are responsible for nominating the governors who lead the administration, and oversee finance and reconstruction projects. They control a combined budget of $2.4bn.
"I hope that the results will lead to new provincial councils that work for the interests of citizens," Hashem Karim, a voter waiting in a queue at a polling station in Nasiriyah, said.
Elections will not take place in the three autonomous Kurdish provinces, Irbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah, until later in the year.
Iraqi voters looking beyond religion
Polls in the oil-rich Kirkuk province, which the Kurds want to incorporate into their region despite fierce opposition by the central government, have been postponed indefinitely.
The killing of three Sunni Arabs candidates on Thursday, and that of a Shia politician two weeks earlier, have raised fears of violence on election day.
Iraqi and US military commanders have in recent days warned that al-Qaeda poses a threat to the elections.
Hundreds of women, including teachers and civic workers, have been recruited to search female voters after a rise in female suicide bombers last year.
A roadside bomb found south of Baghdad on Friday killed three officers and wounded 17 others, an Iraqi police official said.
Night-time curfews were imposed and the borders with Iran and Syria were sealed ahead of election day.
Almost 300,000 local and international observers will monitor the elections, and the US military plans to send heavy deployments of troops onto the streets during the voting.
Elections are being held in 14 provinces of 18 total
About 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote
There are 5 major parties to choose from
More than 14,400 candidates are contending the polls
Campaign rules prohibit the use of government resources and gifts to voters, and restrict the use of religious symbols.
The independent electoral commission said it had received very few complaints about attempts of vote buying, but the issue has become a talking point among Iraqis.
Qassim al-Aboudi, a representative of the electoral commission, said it had fined three political lists for campaign violations, but he declined to identify them or their misdemeanours.
"We received very few reports about attempts to buy votes and we will take action against these parties," he said.
In a Baghdad park this week, a leading Shia party distributed blankets with a pamphlet inserted in the folds instructing voters which candidates to choose.
Other parties have reportedly given out watches to win favour, and in one case, equipped a teenage football team with uniforms.
Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, rejected media reports about attempted vote fraud.
"We want to show the world our elections are transparent," he said.
Mithal al-Alusi, a parliamentarian who heads a secular list of candidates, accused some parties of misusing state funds.