A Series of kidnappings and targeted attacks that killed more than 35 people have others discouraged many from participating. Apathy is widespread amid deep skepticism that the independent candidates stand a chance against established parties and politicians, many of whom are backed by armed militias.
“I voted because there has to be change. I don’t want the same faces and the same parties to return, ”said Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, after casting his vote in Baghdad’s Karradah district.
A total of 3,449 candidates are competing for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections, which will be the sixth since the fall of Saddam Hussein following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the sectarian power-sharing political system that followed.
More than 250,000 security guards across the country were tasked with protecting the voice. Soldiers, police and counterterrorism forces swarmed in front of the polling stations, some of which were surrounded by barbed wire. Voters were scanned and searched.
Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.
“Go out and choose and change your reality for the sake of Iraq and your future,” said al-Kadhimi, repeating the phrase “Get out” three times after casting his vote at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone .
In the 2018 election, only 44% of eligible voters cast their vote, a record low, and the results have been widely controversial. There are concerns about a similar or even lower turnout.
By noon turnout was still relatively low and the streets were mostly deserted. In a tea shop in Karradah, one of the few open, candidate Reem Abdulhadi came in to ask if people had cast their vote.
“I will vote for Umm Kalthoum, the singer, she’s the only one who deserves it,” replied the tea seller, referring to the deceased Egyptian singer who was loved by many in the Arab world. He said he will not vote and does not believe in the political process.
After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who wished to remain anonymous, a card with her name and number in it in case he decided to change his mind. He put it in his pocket.
“Thanks, I’ll keep it as a souvenir,” he said.
At that moment, a low-speed, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead with a screeching sound. “Hear this. That sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not an election, ”he added.
In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr cast his vote, surrounded by local journalists. Then he drove off in a white limousine without comment. Al-Sadr, a populist with an immense following among the Iraqi working class Shiites, won a majority of the seats in the 2018 elections.
Groups made up of the majority of Shiite Muslims in Iraq dominate the electoral landscape, with a close race expected between al-Sadr’s roster and the Fatah alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who finished second in the last election occupied.
The Fatah Alliance consists of parties associated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iranian Shiite militias that became known during the war against the extremist Sunni Islamic State group. It includes some of the toughest pro-Iranian factions, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, a black turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran but publicly opposes its political influence.
In the autonomous region of Northern Kurdistan in Iraq, the race was dominated by the two main Kurdish parties known as the Kurdish Democratic Party, which dominates the Kurdish government, and the Kurdish Patriotic Union.
The elections are the first since the fall of Saddam to be held without a curfew, reflecting the significantly improved security situation in the country for decades following the defeat of ISIS in 2017.
As a security precaution, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings from Saturday night to Monday morning and increased its air force.
For the first time, the elections will take place on Sunday under a new electoral law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies – another demand from activists who participated in the 2019 protests – and allows for more independent candidates.
A UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this year authorized an expanded team to oversee the elections. There will be up to 600 international observers on site, including 150 from the United Nations. More than 24 million of the estimated 38 million Iraqis are eligible to vote.
Iraq is also introducing biometric cards for voters for the first time. But despite all these measures, there are still allegations of vote buying, intimidation and manipulation.
The head of the Iraqi election commission has announced that the first election results will be announced within 24 hours.