Iraqi forces cast ballots ahead of vote

Photo: Iraqi forces cast ballots ahead of vote / Arab World

Iraqi soldiers and policemen vote Monday ahead of the country's first national election since U.S. troops left with worsening sectarian ties and fears the country is slipping into all-out conflict, Agence France-Presse reported.

Along with members of the security forces, hospital and prison staff will also cast their ballots on Monday ahead of wider polling on April 30, Al Arabiya reported.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, criticized by some for allegedly consolidating power and targeting minority groups, is running for a third term in Wednesday's polls as violence is at its worst since 2008.

The month-long election campaign has seen Baghdad and other cities plastered with posters and decked out in bunting, as candidates have taken to the streets, staged loud rallies and challenged each other in public debates.

Attacks on candidates, election workers and political rallies have cast a shadow over the election, and parts of the country that have been out of government control for months, such as areas of the Anbar province overrun by extremist fighters, will not see any ballots cast.

Last week, two explosions at an election rally in Baghdad for a Shiite political party killed at least 28 people.

Iraqis living outside of the country began voting at overseas polling centers on Sunday.

Voters have a long list of grievances, including poor electricity and sewerage services to pervasive graft and difficulties securing jobs, AFP reported. However, the election campaign has mainly focused on Maliki and his efforts to retain power.

His opponents, who span the communal spectrum, accuse him of shoring up his power base, while minority Sunnis in particular say the Shiite premier discriminates against them.

It is unlikely that any single party will win an absolute majority, however, and as in previous elections, coalition talks are likely to take months.

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