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Turnout Over 50 Percent For Iraqi Poll

Ink-stained fingers after voting in Al-Najaf Ink-stained fingers after voting in Al-Najaf
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Ink-stained fingers after voting in Al-Najaf
Ink-stained fingers after voting in Al-Najaf
BAGHDAD (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi officials say just over half of voters turned out for the country's provincial elections.

The January 31 voting has been praised for its relative peacefulness and as a milestone for the future of the war-torn nation. Vote-counting is under way and official results are expected in a few days' time.

Iraqi election commission chief Faraj al-Haydari told a press briefing that turnout reached 51 percent. This is lower than some had predicted, but officials are quoted as saying turnout jumped in some mainly Sunni areas which had previously boycotted polls.

In a television address late on January 31, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hailed the successful holding of the vote as a "victory" for all Iraqis.

"As we conclude this national epic vote, we will be impatient to learn the results," al-Maliki said.

"I hope it will be a strong motivation for the continuation to the political process. Moreover, I hope that we will forget all the troubles that prevailed during the period before the election to build Iraq's future."

The United Nations also welcomed the vote, while U.S. President Barack Obama extended congratulations to Iraqis for holding what he called significant and peaceful elections.

Obama said the elections were an "important step forward" as Iraqis continue the process of taking responsibility for their future.

Around 15 million people were eligible to cast ballots in the voting for 440 council seats in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

Complaints

The elections were held without major violence, but reports say observers are examining some complaints, including allegations that thousands of people's names may have been wrongly omitted from voting lists.

One Baghdad resident told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq of the confusion when he tried to vote: "I came to cast my vote at the polling center. I was told my name is not on the register. I came to the polling center at the school on the opposite side of the street. My name is there on the wall. They were looking for my name inside. I am not the only one. There are three, four, or five families who also have their names missing."

The elections are widely viewed as a key indicator of stability and political trends ahead of general elections later this
year.

But they are also significant in their own right, as the new councils will wield more power than those elected in 2005, when boycotts by minority Sunnis and by some pockets of disgruntled Shi'a significantly affected the results.

National lawmakers last year gave provincial councils the right to pick and dismiss provincial governors, approve budgets, block senior police appointments, and take greater initiative in reconstruction and community projects.

with agency reports

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