BAGHDAD—An Iraqi election to choose the country's next leader and help shape the U.S. role here for the next four years opened Thursday to deadly violence and fraud claims.
Early balloting began for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including police and military who will be on duty Sunday, the main voting day in Iraq's second general election since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The result will help determine the dynamics of Iraq's democracy, its closeness to Iran and the U.S. ability to follow through on its plans to withdraw the bulk of its forces.
The performance of Iyad Allawi—a former prime minister relying on an unusual coalition of Sunnis and Shiites to challenge incumbent Nouri-al Maliki—has emerged as a barometer of whether Iraqi voters will overcome the country's deep divisions between the Shiites now in power and the Sunnis who dominated the government under Mr. Hussein. Win or lose, a recent rise in support for Mr. Allawi, viewed by U.S. officials as a potential bridge builder between the sects, is likely to make him an important player in the fractured government.
The United Nations' envoy to Baghdad on Monday called the vote "the most decisive moment for Iraq's future" since U.S.-led forces toppled Mr. Hussein in 2003.
At least 12 people were killed in three separate attacks Thursday, a police official in Baghdad told Iraqi television. In two of the blasts, suicide bombers tried to enter polling stations, were turned away and detonated their explosive vests in the street among voters, the official said. A rocket struck near a closed polling station in northern Baghdad, killing five people, he said.
There were also early signs of irregularities which, if widespread, could sap the vote's legitimacy.
In the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, and in certain areas of Baghdad, complaints filtered in to the Iraqi High Election Commission of voters' names not showing up on voter rolls. In response, officials extended voting hours at some centers and announced that those whose names didn't appear on rolls could cast provisional ballots.
Many of Iraq's predominantly Sunni parties have accused the election commission of bias. They accuse the government of arresting their candidates, harassment and using government institutions for campaign purposes.
About 6,200 candidates are competing for 325 parliamentary seats, nearly 20 per race. The incumbent Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi, both Shiites, are the top contenders for the premiership, along with some candidates on an Iran-backed Shiite slate. To read full Wall Street Journal story — Go Here Now.
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