It is one of the most competitive elections to be held in the Middle East, it’s importance cannot be underestimated as voters went to the polls in Iraq.
President Jalal Talabani was among the first to vote stressing, “This election marks another step in the march of our democracy, and also a test.” Iraq’s political course will be decisive for the US plans to withdraw all troops by 2011.
As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki went to the polls he called on voters to turn out in large numbers, saying participation would boost democracy. He faces a challenge from one-time partners looking to recapure Shi-ite support. He hopes to gain support from the Sunni minority once dominant under Sadam Hussein’s rule.
Voters are deciding on who will fill 325 parliamentary seats with 86 political parties contesting the election. The economic implications could be huge with energy companies who have committed billions in Iraq’s vast oilfields watching closely.
Despite tight security – the border with Iran has been closed and vehicle movement banned – the capital Baghdad has already been hit by two blasts with reports of at least 16 people losing their lives and dozens injured. Hopes remain these elections can continue without further incident.