VOA News 09 March 2010
Iraqi electoral authorities say turnout among the country's minority Sunnis was strong compared to the last parliamentary elections in 2005 when many Sunnis boycotted the process.
Authorities say more than 60 percent of voters turned out in Iraq's Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar, Diyala and Nineveh, while turnout in Sunni-majority Salahuddin province reached 70 percent. Iraq's overall turnout was 62 percent.
The U.N. Security Council praised the elections Monday as a key step toward strengthening Iraq's national unity and independence. The 15-member body said Iraqis have shown a commitment to a "peaceful, inclusive and democratic political process."
More than 6,000 candidates from parties and coalitions competed in the election. No one faction is expected to win an outright majority, and building a coalition to form a new government could take months.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hopes to keep his Shi'ite-led State of Law faction in power. He faces challenges from former Shi'ite allies in the Iraqi National Alliance and the secular Shi'ite-Sunni Iraqiya faction, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Voters took part in the election Sunday despite attacks and bombings that killed 38 people, mainly in Baghdad.
The new government will have the challenge of taking full responsibility for Iraq's security after U.S. troops withdraw from the country at the end of next year.
In Washington Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the election a milestone for the Iraqi people and for the U.S.-Iraq relationship.