Calm as Iraq votes in early parliamentary polls amid tight security
Elderly Iraqis stand outside a polling station after being told they couldn't vote in the parliamentary elections because their fingerprints couldn't be read. Oliver Weiken/dpa
Elderly Iraqis stand outside a polling station after being told they couldn't vote in the parliamentary elections because their fingerprints couldn't be read. Oliver Weiken/dpa

Voting was largely calm on Sunday as Iraq held a parliamentary election brought forward in response to months-long street protests in favour of reform.

The elections are the second since Iraq declared military victory over the Islamic State militant group almost four years ago.

While the militants have been weakened, Islamic State cells remain active and regularly carry out attacks in parts of Iraq.

More than 250,000 security personnel have been deployed to secure polling stations across Iraq, officials said.

Numerous checkpoints were set up in the capital Baghdad and some roads were closed.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi voted in Baghdad and called for wide participation in the balloting.

"Your votes are precious. Don't miss the chance for change," he said.

Mass protests erupted in Iraq in 2019, with demonstrators calling for the government to resign, the dissolution of parliament and an overhaul of the country's political system, which has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion.

The protesters also decried rampant corruption and a shortage of basic services including electricity.

"I think the government has fulfilled its commitments to respond to the protesters’ demands," voter Iman Abbas said.

"We have to vote in large numbers to support legitimate demands for political change," the 39-year-old woman added in Baghdad.

But there were glitches in the electronic voting system in the morning, local media reported.

At a polling centre in Baghdad visited by dpa reporters, several people were unable to vote because the system did not recognize their fingerprints.

Sadia Elawi, a 83-year-old woman, was one of them. "I’ll return sad to my home. I was determined to vote," she added.

The high level of security also seems to have "put people off a bit" from voting, head of the EU election observation mission, Viola von Cramon, told dpa.

Al-Kadhimi, who took office in May of last year, brought forward the vote by several months in response to the protests.

The mandate of the assembly, elected in 2018, was due to expire in 2022.

Many Iraqis are disillusioned with politics. Supporters of the protest movement have called for the boycott of the election. They are disinclined to vote, ruling out any change in the balance of power within the existing political system.

"Little change is expected to happen in this election. The ruling elite is entrenched so that they will not be removed from power and will maintain their grip," Iraqi analyst Farhad Alaaldin said.

However, Hussain al-Hendawi, an advisor to the premier for election affairs, predicted a high voter turnout.

"We are pleased with the good organization [of the election] and the scale of the turnout," he told reporters in Baghdad without giving specific figures.

Around 3,249 candidates, including 951 women, are vying for seats in the 329-strong parliament. A quarter of the seats are allocated for women.

Nearly 25 million people are eligible to vote at polls that will remain open across Iraq until 6 pm.

Initial results are expected on Monday.

An election volunteer looks at a voter who tries in vain to have his fingerprint taken before being sent away from a polling station and not being able to vote in the parliamentary elections. Oliver Weiken/dpa
An election volunteer feeds the ballot of a voter in an electronic ballot box at a polling station during the parliamentary elections. Oliver Weiken/dpa