Iraq: Reports indicate strong turnout in parliament vote
Iraqis voted Thursday for a full four-term parliament with strong turnout reported in Sunni areas. The polls opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) as planned. Some 15 million people were eligible to vote in the election. "The number of people participating is very, very high and we have had very few irregularities," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told The Associated Press. "It is a good day so far, good for us, good for Iraq."
Under intensified security measures, Iraqis were voting at more than 33,000 polling stations. A total of 7,655 candidates and 307 political lists were competing for 275 seats in parliament. Officials extended voting for one hour, until 6 p.m. as long lines were reported in some precincts. Results will be declared within two weeks.
President Jalal Talabani cast his ballot in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah. "This is a good day and the Iraqi people bear the responsibility to vote for a better future. I hope that the Iraqi people will stay united. We hope that the people will vote to keep the constitution that was approved by the Iraqi people," he said, according to the AP.
Senior election official Abdul-Husein Hendawi said voting was held without problems in the restive Anbar province, including in the city of Fallujah, where the U.S. military said a bomb had been located and defused at a polling station. Unofficial reports have indicated strong turnout in Sunni areas. Sunnis appeared to have turned out in large numbers to try to curb the power of Shiite clerical parties now in control.
Just minutes after polls opened, a mortar landed near the heavily fortified Green Zone. Two people were reported injured in that blast, but a bomb killed a hospital guard and injured two other people near a polling station in the northern city of Mosul.
Overall, violence was light and did not appear to discourage Iraqis to vote. Security was tight, with tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police guarding polling stations. With a nationwide vehicle ban in effect, most Iraqis walked to the polls. Streets were generally empty of cars, except for police, ambulances and a few others with special permits, the AP reported.