- Title: IRAQ: Iraqis in Kirkuk cast their votes in crucial election
- Date: 8th March 2010
- Summary: KIRKUK, IRAQ (MARCH 7, 2010) (REUTERS) QUIET/ EMPTY STREETS SHUTTERED SHOP IRAQI SOLDIER STANDING BY MILITARY VEHICLE STREET WITH AK47 BARREL IN FOREGROUND SOLDIER ON STREET NEAR ELECTION POSTERS PEOPLE IN TRADITIONAL KURDISH COSTUME BEING SEARCHED OUTSIDE POLLING STATION MORE PEOPLE BEING SEARCHED OFFICIALS OF INDEPENDENT HIGH ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IHEC) IN POLLING STATION COMPOUND INTERIOR POLLING STATION/ PEOPLE ARRIVING IHEC OFFICIALS SEATED OFFICIAL STAMPING PAPERS MAN CASTING BALLOT MAN WALKING TO BOX/ PUTTING FINGER IN PURPLE INK MAN CASTING BALLOT IN BOX WOMAN PUTTING FINGER IN PURPLE INK, VOTING FINGERS BEING PUT INTO PURPLE INK/ CASTING BALLOTS
- Embargoed: 23rd March 2010 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA3OQMA2B5BTR7XLHEXXMZM08BD
- Aspect Ratio:
- Story Text: Kurds in the ethnically mixed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk began voting on Sunday (March 7) in national elections that will help determine whether their shaky democracy can end sectarian conflict and defeat insurgents who are trying to plunge Iraq back into broader bloodshed.
Kirkuk is now seen as the chief threat to Iraq's fragile security as U.S. forces prepare to end combat operations in August ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Kurds, who want to incorporate the region U.S. officials say may contain three-four percent of world oil reserves into their enclave, are likely to end up as kingmakers after the March 7 vote.
"I call upon Kurds to participate in the election because the election is a holy thing for the Kurds and they will choose the list that represents them. The most important thing is to participate in this election and not to lose the right to vote," said Aswad Mohammed Ali, a Kurd.
Iraq's political course will be decisive for U.S. President Barack Obama's plans to halve U.S. troop levels over the next five months and withdraw entirely by the end of 2011. It will also be watched closely by energy companies that have committed themselves to investing billions in Iraq's vast oilfields.
Voters in the ethnically and religiously divided country can pick between mainly Shi'ite Islamist parties that have dominated Iraq since Saddam Hussein's fall and their secular rivals.
About 6,200 candidates from 86 factions are vying for 325 parliamentary seats. No bloc is expected to win a majority, and it may take months to form a government, risking a vacuum that armed groups such as Iraq's al Qaeda offshoot might exploit.
Few elections in the Middle East have been as competitive as this one. Its conduct could determine how democracy in Iraq affects a region used to kings and presidents-for-life.
In contrast to the previous election in 2005, Iraqis can vote for individual candidates this time, not just party lists.
Despite tight security, explosions killed 16 people around the country on Sunday, as voters headed to the polls.
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