New York, 12 Jumadil Akhir 1434/21 April 2013 (MINA) – Iraqis braved the fear of violence on Saturday to vote in the first election since the U.S. military withdrawal, though delayed voting in some parts of the country and an apparently lackluster turnout elsewhere has cast doubt about the credibility of the vote, according to ABC News report monitored by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).

     Candidates are vying for seats on provincial councils that have sway over public works projects and other decisions at the local level. The vote is an important barometer of support for Iraq’s various political blocs heading into next year’s parliamentary elections (2014).

     The election was carried out without large-scale bloodshed, although officials ratcheted up security precautions to thwart insurgent attempts to disrupt the vote.

     The election was a test of the Iraqi army and police, who face a reviving al-Qaida insurgency and are for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion security an election on their own.

      Security cordons are set up around polling places, and only authorized vehicles are being allowed on the streets in major cities. Voters dipped an index finger in ink after casting ballots to ensure each person voted only once.

      By early afternoon, the UN special representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, said the voting was going smoothly. He urged Iraqis to the polls, saying “the credibility of the elections depends also on the turnout.”

      Among them was Oday Mohammed, a businessman who brought his mother, wife and children along with him to vote for a candidate from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s. He said he believes both candidates and voters are growing more experienced with the democratic process following the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein.

      “Not all politicians are corrupt. There are some good people,” he said at a polling center in the mainly Shiite district of Kazimiyah.

      The vote comes at a time of rising tensions between Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority and the Shiite majority that has dominated politics since the U.S.-led invasion a decade ago.

      In a reflection of those sectarian strains, many voters said they were encouraged to participate by religious leaders.

      “I don’t have any hope that the situation will improve, but I had to take part because our clerics asked us to so we don’t lose out like in in the past,” said Anwar al-Obaidi, a 60-year old Sunni barber in Baghdad.

      Election results were not expected for several days, but turnout in sections of Baghdad, the southern oil hub of Basra and other cities appeared light.

      Many Iraqis are frustrated with the lack of progress despite several earlier regional and national elections, which were protected with help from the U.S. Several said they saw no point in casting ballots.

      “All the politicians and provincial officials, whether Sunni or Shiite, are nothing but thieves and liars,” said Ali Farhan, a 35-year-old taxi driver in eastern Baghdad, in explaining his choice not to vote.

      Guerrillas stepped up attacks ahead of the vote. A wave of car bombings and other attacks Monday killed at least 55 people and wounded more than 200. Another bombing at a packed cafe late Thursday that left 32 dead. And at least 14 candidates were assassinated in recent weeks.

      Several would-be voters in Baghdad’s mainly Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah could not find their names on voting rolls at several polling centers, so they went home without casting ballots.

      “I’m disappointed. We’re missing the chance to make a change,” lawyer Raed Najm told The Associated Press after failing to find his name at four separate polling stations. (T/P09/E1)

Mi’raj News Agency (MINA).

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