Iraq's voters defy wave of bombings for poll turnout
Terror 'curfew' claims 38 lives
IRAQIS defied bombings and a wave of mortar attacks to complete the most fiercely competitive election in the nation's history yesterday.
Polling stations reported a strong turnout despite 38 deaths across the country and a security presence that included 200,000 police and soldiers in the capital alone.
Soldiers frisked visitors for weapons and explosives at polling stations in Baghdad as many as four times before they were allowed in through lines of barbed wire.
The capital was hit by 70 mortar rounds, while the biggest attack, at a building in the north of the city, killed 25. Some reports said a woman entered and detonated a suicide vest, while others blamed a mortar round.
Al-Qa'ida warned it was imposing a "curfew" and that anyone who cast a ballot risked "God's wrath and the Mujahideen's weapons".
But voters from across the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide said the level of violence was far lower than in the last general election, in 2005.
"We are Iraqis. We have had it much worse than this," said Kamal Fadil, in charge of a polling station in Salhiya, in central Baghdad, to a backdrop of explosions.
"I care more about changing the country than about this intimidation," said Mahir Jamil, outside a station in the al-Mansur neighbourhood, a few yards from where a mortar had landed shortly before.
The incumbent, prime minister Nuri al-Maliki of the State of Law party, is thought the most likely winner, though there are few polls and no one expects any of the four principal blocks to win a clear-cut victory.
Rival contenders for power could yet cry 'foul'.
The anti-sectarian opposition leader Ayad Allawi claims that he lost the last election because of vote rigging.
Mr al-Maliki claims the support of some Sunni tribal leaders but still relies on a massive support Shia base in the south.
Another factor muddying the outcome is the mixed fortunes of the third main contender -- an alliance of Shia parties that comprised Islamists with strong ties to Iran and the fiercely anti-American Sadrists, whose Mahdi militia has fought vicious sectarian and anti-western battles.
The campaign drew diverse candidates. The most attention-grabbing have been the many women candidates, often unveiled.
One prompted an onlooker to joke that he knew the candidate and she was 10 years older than in her picture.
A provisional result is due by the end of the week but the haggling to form a coalition is likely to last for months.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Iraqis for braving the violence to vote and repeating his end-2011 deadline for withdrawing all US troops from the country.
"The level of security and the prevention of destabilizing attacks speaks to the growing capability and professionalism of Iraqi security forces, which took the lead in providing protection at the polls," he said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)