01/31/2009, 00.00
IRAQ
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Heavy security measures during voting for provincial councils

It is the first election at which the Sunnis are participating. Today, there was mortar fire in Tikrit, the home town of former dictator Saddam Hussein. Some of the candidates were killed yesterday and in recent days.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - From 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., 15 million Iraqis are called to the ballot boxes for the first time since 2005. Although there has been a drastic reduction in violence for more than a year, security measures are very extensive.

The authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew, and the closure of the airports and border crossings until tomorrow morning. Even authorized civilians may not carry weapons, and only authorized vehicles are allowed on the roads. In the 14 provinces where voting is taking place, the Iraqi army is protecting the polling stations, without the presence of foreign troops. Hundreds of foreign observers are monitoring the voting, together with thousands of local observers of the various parties.

In spite of these measures, this morning, with the opening of the polling stations, four mortar rounds were fired in Tikrit, the home town of dictator Saddam Hussein. At least 8 of the 14 thousand candidates have been killed in recent days. Three of them, all Sunnis, were killed yesterday in Baghdad, Mosul, and Diyala.

The most important element of these elections is the participation of the Sunni communities in the voting. In 2005, they had boycotted the national elections, leaving the field entirely open for the Shiites and Kurds. Prime minister Nouri al Maliki has already voted, and seems to be the front-runner, thanks to his large Shiite base and to the power that he exercises. In any case, these elections are a test of stability in the country, which will go back to the polls for national elections this year.

The three Kurdish provinces (Arbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniyah) will vote by the end of the year; in the province of Kirkuk, the voting has been postponed indefinitely.

The provincial councils have the responsibility of appointing the governors who manage the administration, finances, and reconstruction projects. The 14,431 candidates are competing for a total of 440 seats. According to electoral law, at least one quarter of the candidates must be women. The minorities have seats reserved for them. The Christians will receive one seat in Baghdad, one in Nineveh, and another in Basra. Among the other minorities, the Sabeans will have a seat in Baghdad; the Yazidi and Shabak will have one seat each in Nineveh.

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