BAGHDAD: Vote counting was under way on Thursday after Iraqis braved a wave of attacks to cast ballots in elections hailed by the US and United Nations as a rebuke to jihadists.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he was “certain” of victory, but the incumbent faces widespread opposition, including from within his own Shiite community, over a marked deterioration in security, rampant corruption, and high unemployment.
Preliminary results are not expected for at least two weeks. Initial figures from the election commission said about 60 percent of Iraq’s 20 million eligible voters cast ballots. The turnout in the last election, in March 2010, was 62 percent.
Wednesday’s general election, the first since US troops withdrew in late 2011, took place as more violence rocked the country, with 14 people killed during the day, including two election workers.
But a security clampdown meant violence levels were lower than in the preceding two days, when in all nearly 90 people died, with Washington and the UN hailing the vote as a broadside to extremists trying to derail the political process.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Iraqis had “courageously voted,” sending “a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists” in Iraq and the region.
The UN Security Council urged Iraq’s leaders to form a government “that represents the will and sovereignty of the Iraqi people” as soon as possible.
The Security Council, in a statement, stressed “no act of violence or terrorism can reverse a path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights, which is supported by the people and the government of Iraq and the international community.”
Iraqis complain of myriad grievances, from poor public services to soaring corruption and high unemployment, but the month-long election campaign hinged on Maliki’s bid for a third term and the dramatically deteriorating security.
The 63-year-old on Wednesday voiced confidence he would stay in office, telling journalists after he cast his ballot at a VIP polling centre in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone: “Our victory is certain, but we are waiting to see the size of our victory.”