Iraqis unshaken from the latest round of a surge in violence braved bomb threats and other deadly attacks to go to the polls on Wednesday in the country’s key election for a brand new parliament amidst a huge security operation while the country slides more into sectarian differences.
Thousands of Iraqi police and troops fanned out across the country to guard the voting polls in what is the first balloting nationwide since the American pullout in 2011.
Polls in the oil-rich nation opened for voting at 7 am and will be opened until 6 pm. The 22 million Iraqi voters are electing a parliament of 328 seats.
A bomb along the roadside killed two women while they were walking to vote in Dibis a small town near Kirkuk, a city of turbulence, close to 180 miles to the north of Baghdad.
Another bomb close to Dibis targeted a military patrol and wounded five soldiers.
In the center of Baghdad, army and police manned different checkpoints that were 500 yards apart. Pickups filled with machine guns perched on their tops roamed the city streets.
Much of Baghdad looked to be deserted without the normal congestion of traffic that is notorious for Baghdad. Most stores in the city were closed.
In the Sadr City district of Baghdad, which is mostly Shiite, for years a target of bombings by Sunni militants, elite forces of counterterrorism had been deployed while helicopters hovered overhead. Buses were ferrying voters to and from polling centers.
Authorities closed the airspace over Iraq for today’s elections and placed a ban on all vehicles in order to lower the threat of individual car bombings.
Police and army personnel voted Monday so they would be free on Wednesday to provide the security for the other voters. Expatriates from Iraq across about 20 countries voted on Sunday as well as Monday.
All voters arriving at the polling stations are subjected to a number of searches prior to them being allowed to enter the polling station. Streets that lead up to a polling center have been blocked by police vehicles and barbed wire.
One voter said she voted early with her husband before the crowds came, as crowds are what attract attacks. The woman said her brother had just been killed in Mosul in the north. He was a member of the Iraqi army she said.