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UN Chief Visits Iraq After Peaceful Local Vote

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials, almost a week after the country held its most peaceful election since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, officials said.

Ban's unannounced visit followed a trip to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, another battlefield in the U.S. war on terrorism launched by former President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Ban was expected to meet Iraqi officials to discuss the January 31 provincial election and other issues as Iraq begins to emerge from years of sectarian bloodshed and insurgency unleashed by the invasion.

The United Nations operates under heavy security and maintains a relatively low profile in Iraq, a legacy of the truck bomb that destroyed its Baghdad headquarters in August 2003, killing top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and other UN workers.

Tthe world body played a big role in helping to organise the January 31 regional elections, which did not witness a single major militant attack anywhere in the country.

Preliminary results released on February 5 showed that allies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki scored spectacular gains across Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim south.

Elsewhere in the country, once dominant Sunni Arabs who boycotted Iraq's last local polls in 2005 regained political power in areas where their exclusion from local politics had fuelled resentment and a lingering insurgency.