Iraq began voting Saturday in its first parliamentary election since declaring victory over the Islamic State group, with the country hoping to shore up the fragile peace and rebuild.
Polling stations opened around the conflict-scarred nation under tight security as the jihadists still pose a major security threat despite a sharp fall in violence.
The ballot comes with tensions surging between key players Iran and the United States over the nuclear deal, sparking fears of a destabilising power struggle over Iraq.
Roughly 24.5 million voters face a fragmented political landscape five months after IS were ousted, with the dominant Shiites split, the Kurds in disarray and Sunnis sidelined.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi – who took over as IS rampaged across Iraq in 2014 – is angling for a new term, claiming credit for defeating the jihadists and seeing off a Kurdish push for independence.
Polls opened at 7 AM and will remain open until 6 PM. pic.twitter.com/zxw5gsevnF
— Rudaw English (@RudawEnglish) May 12, 2018
But competition from within his Shiite community, the majority group dominating Iraqi politics, should divide the vote and spell lengthy horse-trading to form any government.
Whoever emerges as premier will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against IS – with donors already pledging $30-billion (R367-billion).
Over 15 blood-sodden years since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein, disillusionment is widespread with the same old faces from an elite seen as mired in corruption and sectarianism.