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Iraq PM Predicts Victory As Votes Being Counted


Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr casts his vote at a polling station in Baghdad during parliamentary elections on April 30.
As votes are being counted in Iraqi parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said he is "certain" of winning.

Iraq held its first parliamentary elections on April 30 since U.S. forces withdrew from the country three years ago.

Militant groups who had pledged to disrupt the vote were defied by the some 60 percent of the Iraqi voters who took part in the elections.

More than 9,000 candidates from 277 political blocs are competing for places in the 328-seat legislature.

Maliki -- who is head of the mainly Shi'ite Islamic Dawa Party and bidding for a third term as prime minister -- said that he is sure his State of Law coalition will be reelected as the strongest bloc in parliament and is only waiting to see "the size of our victory."

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police fanned out across the country to protect the millions of voters taking part in the elections.

But some violence was reported across the country with at least 14 people killed and 16 wounded.

Iraq has been wracked by sectarian violence this year with thousands of people killed and wounded in bomb attacks and shootings.

RFE/RL correspondents in the restive western Anbar Province reported light turnout at polling stations, particularly in large cities such, as government forces continue to battle militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Authorities said before voting started that only some 70 percent of polling stations in Anbar Province would be open due to security concerns.

UN envoy to Iraq Nikolay Mladenov told reporters that the election is taking place at "a very difficult time for the country."

But he said the election is a key event in Iraq's "democratic transition."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an April 30 statement: "With ink-stained thumbs, Iraqi voters sent a powerful rebuke to the violent extremists who have tried to thwart democratic progress."

Kerry has praised Iraqis who "courageously voted."

Final results from the April 30 elections are expected within three weeks.
With reporting by AP and AFP