After a violent parliamentary election on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed his optimism that his political bloc will win the parliamentary elections, Al Arabiya reported.
"Our victory is certain, but we are talking about how big is that certain success," the Associated Press quoted Maliki as saying after voting in Baghdad on Wednesday.
"Here we are today, successfully holding the ... election while no foreign troops exist on Iraqi soil. I call upon all the other groups to leave the past behind and start a new phase of good brotherly relations," said Maliki, who faces growing criticism over government corruption and persistent bloodshed as sectarian tensions threaten Iraq.
Meanwhile, sources told the local al-Sumaria News website that the initial results indicate that Maliki's State of the Law bloc is the frontrunner.
However, observers mull that there will be no political bloc that will win by majority just like the 2010 elections, which left Iraqis waiting months for coalition talks to form a government.
The election was held amid a massive security operation, with hundreds of thousands of troops and police deployed across the country to protect polling centers and voters. The streets of Baghdad, a city of 7 million, looked deserted, the Associated Press reported. Police and soldiers manned checkpoints roughly 500 meters (yards) apart and pickup trucks mounted with machine guns roamed the streets that were otherwise devoid of the usual traffic jams.
"I decided to go and vote early while it's safe. Crowds attract attacks," said Azhar Mohammad, a mother of four who voted with her husband shortly after 7 a.m. in Baghdad's mainly Shiite Karradah district. The 37-year-old woman said her brother - a soldier - was killed last week in the northern city of Mosul.
"There has been a big failure in the way the country has been run and I think it is time to elect new people," she said, shrouded in black.
Scattered attacks took place north and west of Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 16. Roadside bombs killed two women and two election workers in the northern town of Dibis.
Turnout of Iraq's 22 million eligible voters was estimated at about 60 percent, according to Muqdad al-Shuraifi, a senior election commission member. The figure, he explained, excluded "restive areas."
They chose from more than 9,000 candidates.
Authorities did not offer a timetable for releasing results, but they were expected to start trickling in to election officials in the coming days.
Meanwhile, non-Shiite parties complained of obstacles to voting in the outer suburbs of Baghdad and saw in it a deliberate effort by Maliki to keep their numbers down in the next parliament, Agence France-Presse reported.
"It was all to be expected," said Muhannad Hussam, a candidate who supports Sunni deputy prime minister Saleh Mutlaq.
"They didn't want the Sunnis to move for the election."
Hussam said some voting machines broke down and that security forces prevented people trying to reach polling stations in Abu Ghraib, Yusifya and Latifya, all around Baghdad.
"From our view it is not a fair election," he said.