Iraq Elections 2018: In 1st Elections since Victory over Daesh, Iraqis Head to Polls to Elect New Parliament
Polls opened across Iraq on Saturday in the first national election since the declaration of victory over the Wahhabi Daesh [Arabic acronym for "ISIS" / "ISIL"].
After weeks of official campaigning, no clear front-runner has emerged as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi faces stiff competition from other political parties.
In central Baghdad, voters supporting Abadi said they are doing so because they give him credit for Iraq's military victory over Daesh.
Abadi "took revenge" for civilians martyred in insurgent attacks in Iraq "with the victory over Daesh," said 71 year-old Felihah Hassan.
After Daesh overran nearly a third of Iraq in the summer of 2014, the group launched waves of suicide bombings targeting civilians in Baghdad and other pockets of government-controlled territory.
With support from the US-led coalition and Iran, Abadi oversaw a grueling war against the extremists and declared victory over the group late last year.
Since then, Baghdad has experienced a relative lull in insurgent-style attacks, but in the lead up to Saturday's vote Iraqi security forces have imposed tight security measures including a curfew.
Despite Abadi's military achievements, Iraq continues to struggle with an economic downturn sparked in part by a drop in global oil prices, entrenched corruption and years of political gridlock.
The prime minister's most powerful opponents are his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, and an alliance of candidates with close ties to the country's powerful, mostly Shiite paramilitary forces.
The alliance, called "Fatah" - Arabic for "Conquest" - is headed by Hadi al-Amiri, a former minister of transport who became a senior commander of paramilitary fighters in the fight against Daesh. Many of the candidates on his list were also paramilitary commanders before they cut their official ties with the force in order to seek office.
Another key player in the vote is influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He commanded fighters in the war against Daesh and headed a powerful group that fought US forces in Iraq before that, but his election campaign has focused on social issues and eliminating government corruption.
In total there are 329 parliament seats at stake, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of political alliances.
The vote will be conducted electronically for the first time in an effort to reduce fraud and polling centers have been set up for many of the country's 2 million people who remain displaced by the war against Daesh.
The results of Saturday's election are expected within 48 hours of the vote, according to the independent body overseeing the election.
Government formation negotiations are expected to drag on for months after that as the dozens of political parties attempt to cobble together a political bloc large enough to hold a majority of seats in parliament.
The next prime minister of Iraq will be chosen from among the five main Shiite factions.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team