Sunnis to reclaim voice in crucial Iraqi election
Wary Iraqis will vote today for a new government for the second time since the fall of Baghdad in 2003, with all sects pledging to turn out in numbers and US president Barack Obama hoping for a result that will allow him to end the occupation.
The poll is seen as a test of Iraq's progress in the 51 months since the disastrous general election of 2005, and its capacity to stand alone afterwards -- during what is expected to be a power vacuum caused by the rapid withdrawal of all remaining US combat troops. The pullout will be ordered within weeks, if the ballot is deemed to be credible.
Attitudes in Iraq to the poll during a fortnight of campaigning have been mixed. Memories remain vivid of the 2005 election, which heralded three years of violence -- largely because of a Sunni boycott that led the already disenfranchised minority to lose further status in post-Saddam Iraq.
In Salahuddin province, where the executed dictator is buried, Sunni residents seem almost resentful about voting, but resigned to turning up at polling stations to try and reclaim lost political ground.
"The people here are looking to improve their situation," said Mutather Alwan, the governor of Salahuddin. "This government has done nothing for them, so we will turn out in numbers to restore our rights. People are now far more knowledgeable than they were in 2005."
Across the Sunni heartland, there has been little sign of a much-predicted Baathist grab for power -- despite constant warnings from Ahmed Chalabi the former US ally, and Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, in particular.
"Security is under control here," said police Lieutenant Shihad Kamel in Tikrit. "We haven't seen any sign of the Baathists at all." The secular Iraqiya electoral list of Iyad Allawi -- a former interim prime minister and post-war favourite of Britain -- is likely to poll well. It will probably feature in post-election horse-trading to nominate a prime minister.
Mr al-Maliki, is also polling well, but to stay in power would almost certainly have to form a coalition with either Allawi or a rival conservative and largely Shia grouping headed by young cleric, Aamer Hakim.