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Iraqis brave threat of violence to vote

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Authorities also closed Iraq’s airspace for the elections. Soldiers and police cast ballots Monday to enable them to provide security on voting day. Iraqis living in about 20 other countries voted Sunday and Monday.

Hamid al-Hemiri and his wife Haifaa Ahmed walked five kilometers (three miles) to reach their polling center on the west bank of the Tigris River.

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"We were determined to take part in the election to save our country and so that future generations don’t curse us," he said. His wife added: "I am voting to stop the bloodshed in my country. Enough sorrow and pain."

Al-Maliki rose from relative obscurity to office in 2006, when Iraq’s sectarian bloodletting began to spiral out of control, with Sunni militants and Shiite militias butchering each other.

The violence ebbed by 2008 after Sunni tribes backed by the Americans rose up to fight al-Qaida-linked militants and Shiite militias declared a cease-fire.

But attacks have surged in the past year, stoked in part by al-Maliki’s moves last year to crush protests by Sunnis complaining of discrimination under his government. Militants took over the city of Fallujah in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar and parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi.

Iraqi army and police forces battling them for months have been unable to take most areas back, and voting was not taking place in parts of the vast province bordering Jordan and Syria.

The insurgents also have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria, where mostly Sunni rebels are fighting to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad, a follower of a Shiite offshoot sect. The rebels are dominated by Islamists and members of al-Qaida-linked or inspired groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Shiite militiamen from Iraq fight on the side of Assad’s forces.

At the same time, many Iraqis increasingly complain of government corruption and the failure to rebuild the economy after years of war following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Last year, the death toll in Iraq climbed to its highest levels since the worst of the sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007. The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and about 2,000 people were killed in the first three months of this year alone.

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High-profile attacks have killed dozens in recent days.

A roadside bomb killed two women as they walked to a polling station Wednesday, while another bomb targeted an army patrol, wounding five soldiers in the northern town of Dibis, according to Sarhad Qadir, a senior police officer in the area.

Another bomb in Diblis struck a car carrying election commission employees, killing two, said senior police officer Turhan Abdullah Youssef.

Elsewhere in the north, a police officer was killed when he jumped on a suicide bomber to protect people from the blast, which occurred near a polling center in Beiji. Eleven people were wounded, police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Police also shot and killed a would-be suicide bomber before he could blow himself up near a polling center in Mosul.

In Anbar, several mortar shells landed near polling centers, wounding two people, in Amiriyat Fallujah, where thousands of people have taken refuge after fleeing fighting in nearby Fallujah.

Retired army officer Abu Abdullah, a native of Amiriyat Fallujah who would not give his full name, boycotted the vote to protest what he said was the failure of Sunni Arab politicians to protect their community.

"I am not ready to take a risk or even be killed for the sake of corrupt people who might be in the next parliament or government because I am sure they will make a deal with al-Maliki and forget about us."


Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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