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Preliminary voting closed across Iraq after mass protests

By Qasim Abdul Al-Zahra

BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraqis voted Sunday in a month-ahead scheduled parliamentary election as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the vote was widely boycotted and boycotted by many young activists who took to the streets of Baghdad and the southern provinces of Iraq in late 2019. Ammunition and tear gas killed more than 600 people and injured thousands in just a few months.

Although authorities acknowledged and called for early elections, the number of casualties and the crackdown on heavy hands, as well as a series of targeted killings, forced many protesters to call for a later boycott of the vote. ۔

Polls closed at 1500 GMT (1800 local time) 11 hours after voting. Results are expected in the next 48 hours, according to the Iraqi Independent Election Commission. But negotiations for the prime minister-elect are expected to continue for weeks or months.

It was the sixth election since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 after the US-led invasion of Iraq. Armed militia

Minutes after the pool closed, a fireworks display organized by the Baghdad Municipality took place in the city’s historic Tahrir Square, where protesters had set up tents for several months beginning in October 2019. Later, corona virus epidemic

Today, the square is largely empty. The country faces enormous economic and security challenges, and although most Iraqis want change, some expect it to be an election.

Mona Hussain, a 22-year-old cinema make-up artist, said she boycotted the election because she did not think there was a safe environment “everywhere with unarmed weapons”.

“In my opinion, holding free and fair elections is not easy in the current situation,” he said.

Amir Fidel, a 22-year-old car dealer, disagreed. “I do not want these faces and the same parties to come back,” he said after casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karada district.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazmi, whose second-term prospects will be determined by the election results, urged Iraqis to cast their ballots.

“Get out and vote, and change your future,” al-Kazmi repeated the phrase “get out” three times after voting at the home of foreign embassies and government offices at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. Huye said.

Under Iraqi law, the winner of Sunday’s vote has the opportunity to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely that any rival coalition will win a clear majority. This will require a lengthy process of backroom negotiations to elect a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government. It took eight months of political turmoil to form a government after the 2018 elections.

Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslim groups dominate the electoral scene, with fierce competition expected between influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fatah coalition, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Amiri, who ran in the last election. Came to number

The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties and is affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iranian Shiite militias that emerged during the fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group. This includes some hardline factions backed by Iran, such as the Aseeb Ahl al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, a black-turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran, but publicly denies its political influence.

Earlier on Sunday, al-Sadr cast his ballot in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was surrounded by local journalists. He then went into the white sedan without comment. President al-Sadr, a popular follower of Iraq’s working class Shiites, won the most seats in the 2018 election.

This is the first election since the fall of Saddam Hussein without a curfew, reflecting a marked improvement in the security situation in the country since the defeat of IS in 2017. The previous vote was marred by fighting and deadly bombings that have plagued the country. For decades.

More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were assigned to guard the vote. Troops, police and counter-terrorism troops arrived and were deployed outside polling stations, some of which were barbed wire. Voters were tapped and searched.

As a precautionary measure, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and surrounded its air force from Saturday night until Monday morning.

In another development, Sunday’s election is taking place under a new electoral law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies – another demand for workers participating in the 2019 protests – and more independent candidates.

In the 2018 elections, only 44% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote, a record low, and the results were widely contested. This time around, there are fears of a similar or even lower turnout.

In a tea shop in Karada, one of the few players, Reem Abdul Hadi, went inside and asked if people had cast their vote.

“I will give my vote to singer Umm Kulthum, the only one who deserves it,” the tea vendor said, referring to many beloved Egyptian singers in the Arab world. He said he would not run in the election and did not believe in the political process.

After a few words, Abdul Hadi gave the man, who asked not to be named, a card with his name and number if he changed his mind. He put it in his pocket.

“Thank you, I’ll keep it as a memento,” he said.

At that moment, a low-flying, high-speed military plane flew overhead, making a screaming noise. “Listen. This voice is terror. It reminds me of war, not elections.

___

Associated Press writer Abdul Rehman Ziad contributed to the reporting.

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