Iraqis vote in first provincial elections for a decade

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Iraqis vote on Monday to choose their provincial councils, the first such election in a decade and one which is expected to strengthen powerful Shiite pro-Iran groups.

The vote will take place with disillusionment widespread among the country’s 43 million inhabitants, with endemic corruption eating away at the oil-rich nation.

The election is seen as a key test for the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

“Turnout to me is the ultimate gage of satisfaction,” Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, told AFP.

It will show, he said, “whether the Sudani government’s economic populism — the policy of giving out (public sector) jobs — can be successful and can capture the young population”.

On Monday morning at 7:00 am (0400 GMT), 7,166 polling stations will open under tight security, before closing at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT).

Some 17 million people are eligible to vote, with 6,000 candidates vying for just 285 seats in the powerful provincial councils.

They were established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and wield important powers, including selecting regional governors and allocating health, transport and education budgets.

Critics say that the councils are nests of corruption and enable clientelism.

Elections,

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