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Post-ISIS Iraq Holds Parliamentary Elections


Iraqis went to the polls today to elect a new Parliament. It's a particularly important election, the first since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces drove ISIS out of a third of Iraqi territory. Election officials say voting took place with no major attacks, but a lot of Iraqis still stayed away from the polls. NPR's Jane Arraf was there for the voting.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: This was one of the safest elections since Iraqis went to the polls after Saddam Hussein was toppled. A vehicle ban to prevent car bombs meant that voters had to walk. It was safe enough that security officials lifted that ban a few hours later. Election officials were hoping that more people would vote if they could drive there, but even that didn't work.

KHALED ABDUL SATAR JABAR: (Through interpreter) Most of the people who came to vote are the elderly and women. In the past elections, there were long lines of voters. People came in groups. Now, they come as individuals.

ARRAF: That's Khaled Abdul Satar Jabar, the head of a polling station in Kathamiya, a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.

JABAR: (Through interpreter) Young men feel that there's no change. Most of these candidates, this is a big joke for them. They mock people with their corruption.

ARRAF: There were three million young people eligible to vote for the first time, but a lot of them stayed away. In the Sunni neighborhood of Athamiya, Mina, who's 22, came with her mother Yasmine to vote. They asked that only their first names be used.

YASMINE: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: They're dressed up. Yasmine, a schoolteacher, says they were excited about the thought of a better Parliament. And she says they made themselves beautiful to come and vote.

MINA: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: But Mina says she doesn't have high hopes for this government or any government.

YASMINE: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: "Let's see what they do," her mother says.

YASMINE: (Foreign language spoken).

ARRAF: For the first time, Iraq was using machines to tabulate the votes.

YASMINE: (Through interpreter) There was a difference. When you see the voting mechanism, there's a bit more freedom. Before, they were watching to see what candidate you were choosing.

ARRAF: This was a crowded election field. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is running for re-election, but each voter had dozens of choices this time. Abadi's his biggest rival is a former militia leader with ties to Iran. Outside the polling center in Baghdad's Atafiyah neighborhood, Jawad Kathem and his friends were hanging out in the street. They're members of one of the most hardline paramilitary groups, Asaib Ahl al-Haq. It helped fight ISIS and now has a political wing. Kathem says his fellow fighters came out in force to vote.

JAWAD KATHEM: (Through interpreter) They have sacrificed for Iraq with their own blood. I don't think there's anyone who deserves to be elected.

ARRAF: Nearby, a couple of young men were cheerfully throwing campaign posters into a garbage truck. Ahmed Hamed Shaker is a follower of Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and he says a lot of people voted for the list backed by al-Sadr.

AHMED HAMED SHAKER: (Through interpreter) Normal citizens are demanding their rights - electricity, clean water, jobs. We don't care about which religious sect you're from, the important thing is to raise the name and the voice of Iraq.

ARRAF: The election results aren't in yet. But in between the apathy and the passion for new candidates, many Iraqis are expecting a shakeup. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.