Iraq Holds First Election Since U.S. Withdrawal

With U.S. and coalition forces withdrawn from the country, Iraqi security forces are largely on their own.

Iraq Holds First Election Since U.S. Withdrawal

Iraqis are headed to the polls Wednesday for their fourth national election since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

But there’s a big difference this time around. With U.S. and coalition forces withdrawn from the country, Iraqi security forces are largely on their own.  (Via Euronews)

And insurgents have wasted no time exploiting the security gap — targeting election offices and rallies across the country. The Sunni Al-Qaeda splinter group that calls itself The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has claimed reasonability for a wave of attacks. (Via Voice of America)

Suicide bombers and gunmen disguised in military and police uniforms struck several voting centers, killing at least 50 people on Monday alone. (Via RT

One Iraq analyst explained to the Los Angeles Times Iraqi security forces don't have access to the same intelligence they did just a few years ago: “Back then ... the U.S. was able to provide intelligence support, while the public was more able, and willing, to cooperate with the security forces and provide information.”

The election is widely seen as a referendum on Nouri al-Maliki — the country's Shiite Prime Minister of eight years. His party is poised to win the most seats in Wednesday’s election, though perhaps not the majority the party campaigned for. (Via The White House

Many Sunnis and secularists complain of discrimination under al-Maliki. Others say his government is responsible for high unemployment and rampant corruption. (Via The White House

They've lost hope Wednesday's election will bring any change in policy, according to Middle East analyst Guido Steinberg, who told USA Today, "Iraq has been developing in an autocracy in recent years and there is no reason to hope that these elections will change (this).”

Wednesday's election comes as Iraq deals with an increase in sectarian violence — the worst since 2008. A year-long offensive by Al-Qaeda killed 9,000 people in 2013, renewing fears of civil war. (Via ITN)

The unrest has gotten so bad voting won’t even take place in western province of Anbar, where Al-Qaeda linked militants largely control the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. (Via ABC)

The Wall Street Journal's Matt Bradley tells CNN security is the number one thing on the minds of most voters.

"A lot of them said they were voting for Maliki's state of law and some of them  said they were voting for more hardline Shiite groups with connections to militia organizations." (Via CNN) 

Some 9,000 candidates are running for 328 seats in the country’s parliament. Results from Wednesday's election are not expected anytime soon.