Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings on Sunday as voters headed to polling stations to elect a parliament that many hope will bring in much-needed reforms after decades of conflict and mismanagement.
The vote was postponed six months in response to a popular uprising in the capital Baghdad and southern provinces in late 2019, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest rampant corruption, poor service and rising unemployment. They were met fatally by security forces using live ammunition and tear gas. In just a few months, more than 600 people were killed and thousands were injured.
A total of 3,449 candidates are vying for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections, which will be the sixth since the fall of Saddam Hussein following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and anti-terrorism forces fanned out and camped outside polling stations, some of which were surrounded by barbed wire.
The election marks the first since Saddam’s fall to pass without a curfew, reflecting the country’s vastly improved security following the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017. Previous voices have been clouded by the fighting and deadly bomb attacks that have haunted the country for decades.
As a security measure, Iraq closed its airspace and raised its air force from Saturday evening until early Monday morning. The head of the Iraqi electoral commission said that the initial results of the elections will be announced within 24 hours.