People in Iraq are preparing to cast their ballots in the country’s parliamentary elections, amid deadly violence fomented by al-Qaeda-linked militants to disrupt the vote.
Over 20 million voters will choose between upwards of 9,000 candidates running for 328 seats when voting starts at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT).
Wednesday’s vote is Iraq’s first parliamentary polls since US forces withdrew in 2011 and is a major test for the security forces. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping to win a third term.
“I believe the elections will not produce a prime minister better than al-Maliki,” said an Iraqi national from eastern Baghdad, adding, “Al-Maliki has good experience… Any other prime minister will be starting from scratch.”
Iraqi soldiers and policemen began voting on April 28, two days before the national elections, in order to be able to provide security on the main polling day.
The government has announced weeklong public holidays in an effort to facilitate the security process for the voting. Vehicles have also been barred from Baghdad’s streets as of Tuesday evening.
The vote comes as Takfiri groups such as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are reportedly coming to Iraq from neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia to undermine security in the country.
Terrorist attacks across the country killed 24 people on Tuesday, while over 60 people died in a nationwide spate of explosions on Monday.
The government in Baghdad has blamed Riyadh for the chaos, saying Saudi Arabia is funding and arming militants fighting against Iraqi forces in the country’s western areas, including Anbar province.
Violence has reportedly killed over 3,000 people in Iraq so far this year.