Iraq: Turnout in Sunni vote shows many stayed home

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Associated Press

Posted on June 21, 2013 at 6:04 AM

Updated Friday, Jun 21 at 7:07 AM

BAGHDAD (AP) — Many Iraqis stayed home for delayed elections in two restive Sunni-dominated provinces, with half of the eligible voters participating in one and even fewer casting ballots in the other, election officials said Friday.

Much of Iraq voted for provincial council members on April 20 in the country's first election since the U.S. military withdrawal. But officials delayed elections in Anbar and Ninevah provinces until Thursday because of what they said were security concerns.

Independent High Electoral Commission member Muqdad al-Shuraifi said Friday that 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the western province of Anbar — roughly in line with the national average turnout. Only 38 percent voted in the northern province of Ninevah.

Electoral officials have said the overall turnout for the April vote was 51 percent — the same as during the last provincial elections in 2009.

"We consider the turnout good considering the general situation in these two provinces," IHEC spokesman Safaa al-Moussawi said.

Anbar and Ninevah have seen some of the largest rallies in a months-long wave of Sunni anti-government protests. They also have faced repeated attacks by militants, mainly directed at security forces, election candidates and government officials.

Officials were unable to provide provincial-level turnout figures for the last provincial elections in 2009.

Thursday's elections, like those in the past, were held amid tight security. Thousands of policemen and soldiers were deployed to secure the elections, and authorities imposed a vehicle ban in major cities in the two provinces to protect against car bombings.

The vote itself was relatively calm, with one person reported killed and three wounded in a mortar attack in in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad.

But after polls closed, a suicide bomber was able to enter the main ballot-counting center in Ramadi and blow himself up. That attack killed seven and wounded eight, according to security and hospital officials in Anbar.

The violence continued Friday. A bomb left in a major commercial street in the neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad exploded Friday afternoon, killing two people and wounding nine, according to police. The force of the blast damaged several shops in the area.

Hospital officials confirmed the casualty numbers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the details.

Iraq is weathering its worst spike in violence in half a decade, with nearly 2,000 people killed since the start of April. Much of the violence is the work of the Sunni extremist al-Qaida branch in Iraq, which seeks to undermine support for the Shiite-led government in Iraq.

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Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamschreck

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