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Officials Hoping for Trouble-Free Poll

Authorities aim to reduce the risk of violence and voting-related problems on election day.
By Saleem al-Hasani
Iraqi officials this week pledged to secure polling stations and ensure citizens are well briefed on election-day voting procedures.



Approximately 19 million Iraqis, including 1.4 million citizens living in 16 countries abroad, will be eligible to vote in the March 7 elections, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission, IHEC.



Iraq will not be under curfew on election day but vehicle bans may be imposed in some provinces, said Lieutenant General Ayden Khalid, who heads the elections security committee. He did not identify any provinces.



The election is considered a major test for Iraq’s security forces and military ahead of the December 31 United States troop withdrawal.



Polling stations will be heavily guarded, and Iraq’s 500,000-strong security forces, including the army, intelligence and air forces, will help protect the streets and voting centres, Khalid said.



The IHEC has launched a media campaign to inform voters on how and where to cast their ballots, the body’s chief Hamdiya al-Husseini said in a press conference on February 21.



Voter registration cards now include the address of voters’ designated polling stations to prevent confusion over the location of the latter, Husseini said.



The IHEC was accused of disenfranchising voters in the 2009 provincial council elections after election workers turned away people who were not listed on polling station registries.



The commission said voters who were denied ballots had gone to the wrong stations.



Husseini said that informing the public of polling station locations and voting procedures was “at the top of our agenda”.



Roughly 72,000 people, including 520 international observers, will monitor voting at nearly 54,000 polling stations, according to IHEC. Most of the monitors will represent Iraq’s political parties.



More than 6,200 candidates, including 1,800 women, are contesting the ballot for seats in Iraq’s first parliamentary election since 2005.



Saleem al-Hasany is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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