Skip to main content

Iraqis vote in local elections despite violence

From Mohammed Tawfeeq. Salma Abdelaziz and Joe Sterling, CNN
April 21, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
A member of the Iraqi anti-terrorism force keeps watch as civilians arrive at a polling station to cast their ballots during provincial elections on Saturday, April 20, in Baghdad's Sadr City district. Iraqis are voting in the country's first polls since U.S. troops departed, a key test of the country's stability in the face of a spike in attacks that has claimed more than 100 lives. A member of the Iraqi anti-terrorism force keeps watch as civilians arrive at a polling station to cast their ballots during provincial elections on Saturday, April 20, in Baghdad's Sadr City district. Iraqis are voting in the country's first polls since U.S. troops departed, a key test of the country's stability in the face of a spike in attacks that has claimed more than 100 lives.
HIDE CAPTION
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
Iraqis vote amid violence
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Analyst: National unity taking a background to sectarianism
  • There were a number of attacks preceding the vote
  • Elections are being held in most of the country's 18 governorates
  • It's the first poll in which Iraqi forces will provide security without help from the U.S.

Baghdad (CNN) -- Iraqis headed to the polls Saturday to vote in provincial elections nationwide, the first poll in which the country's forces provided security without the assistance of U.S. troops.

Elections were held in most of Iraq's 18 governorates to replace local councils elected in 2009. Some provinces -- such as Anbar, Kirkuk and Nineveh -- did not hold elections because of insecurity.

Bombs were detonated in the days preceding and up to the election, sometimes killing and injuring candidates. On Saturday, six people were wounded at election centers, four from bombs in Latafiya south of Baghdad and two from mortars in Tikrit north of the capital.

But no major violence occurred, and the United States praised the the exercise as a brave democratic process. Security was so tight in Baghdad that some people couldn't make it to the polls because of curfew.

"In the face of security threats, millions of Iraqi citizens exercised their democratic right to cast their ballots at polls in twelve provinces across the country to choose new provincial councils," the U.S. Embassy said.

"This is a clear step forward for Iraqi democracy and a strong rejection of the violent extremists who have sought to derail democratic progress and sow discord among Iraqis. "

Deadly wave of bombings across Iraq

Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative for Iraq, praised the "peaceful conduct" and commended election officials and security forces.

"Credible elections are critical to the country's stability," he said.

The elections are the first Iraq has held since parliamentary elections in 2010.

Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki was shown casting his ballot on state-run TV channel Iraqiya. He was among at least 15.5 million Iraqis were eligible to vote in Saturday's polls, the United Nations said, citing official estimates. Election officials estimated that around 50% percent of the voters turned out Saturday.

More than 8,000 candidates were reportedly vying for 378 seats on provincial councils.

CNN spoke to many people streaming to the polls.

They said they wanted change, stability and improvement in basic services. People of all ages voted, but in Baghdad at least, there was a clearly strong turnout of the younger generation.

"Inshallah," God willing, people said, as they expressed their hope for a better future.

Sectarianism a dark cloud over elections

The Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife in the region as well as Iraq was seen to be a major factor in the election and intimidation of voters.

Ramzy Mardini, adjunct fellow at the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, noted the detrimental attacks in the run-up to the election and said the divide is "widening, not closing."

"Today, al-Qaeda in Iraq appears to seek to influence the vote, rather than preventing the electoral process from occurring. The attacks appear targeted to keep Shiites at home and instill fear in Sunnis who are backing candidates that are cooperating with Maliki," he said, citing the Sunni militant group.

The rise of Sunni Islamists during the Arab Spring and the sectarian civil war in Syria represent "strategic drivers of instability in Iraq leading to Shiite fear and Sunni hubris. That's a dangerous combination, and it will sectarianize those fault lines even further as Iraqis undergo their first election cycle since the departure of U.S. forces," Mardini said.

As a result, there isn't "much political space for Sunnis and Shiites to cooperate. Those that do are likely to get punished at the ballot box."

The elections are a run-up to next year's general elections, shaping how politicians think about "political alignments going into next year's general election."

"It's a practice run. Everybody's got several political cards in their hands; how they perform locally can influence which card they choose to play or not play on the national stage," Mardini said.

But "national reconciliation" has been neglected.

"Iraqis will fall back on sectarian preferences when faced with fear and uncertainty, and there's plenty of fear and uncertainty for politicians to exploit to their sectarian advantage this election cycle," he said.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Baghdad. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz and Joe Sterling reported from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0254 GMT (1054 HKT)
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0024 GMT (0824 HKT)
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1706 GMT (0106 HKT)
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0822 GMT (1622 HKT)
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2100 GMT (0500 HKT)
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT