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Iraq holds first nationwide election since IS defeat

AFP  |  Baghdad 

began voting Saturday in its first since declaring victory over the group, with the country hoping to shore up a fragile peace and rebuild.

Polling stations opened around the conflict-scarred nation under tight security as the jihadists still pose a major security threat despite a sharp fall in violence.

The ballot comes with tensions surging between key players and the over the nuclear deal, sparking fears of a destabilising power struggle over

Roughly 24.5 million voters face a fragmented political landscape five months after IS were ousted, with the dominant Shiites split, the Kurds in disarray and Sunnis sidelined.

-- who took over as IS rampaged across in 2014 -- is angling for a new term, claiming credit for defeating the jihadists and seeing off a Kurdish push for independence.

But competition from within his Shiite community, the majority group dominating Iraqi politics, should divide the vote and spell lengthy horse-trading to form any government.

Whoever emerges as will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against IS -- with donors already pledging $30 billion.

Over 15 blood-sodden years since the US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein, disillusionment is widespread with the same old faces from an elite seen as mired in corruption and sectarianism.

More than two million people remain internally displaced and IS -- which has threatened the polls -- still had the capacity to launch deadly attacks. Iraq has long been a crucible for the rivalry between and the US, with exerting influence over Shiite politicians and deploying troops to fight IS.

Overall, just under 7,000 candidates are standing and Iraq's complex system means no single bloc should get anything near a majority in the 329-seat parliament.

Abadi -- who has balanced off the US and -- is facing two leading challengers to his

Ex-is widely reviled for stirring sectarianism and losing territory to IS, but draws support from hardliners.

-- a former -- led Iran-backed paramilitary units that fought IS alongside Baghdad's troops and heads a list of ex-combattants.

Votes in the Sunni heartlands once dominated by IS -- including Iraq's devastated second city -- are up in the air as traditional alliances have been shredded by the fallout of jihadist rule.

Political forces in the Kurdish community -- often seen as potential kingmakers -- are also in disarray after a September vote for independence backfired spectacularly.

The Kurds look set to lose some of their clout on the national stage after unleashed a battery of sanctions and seized back disputed

A told AFP that some 900,000 police and soldiers are on high alert to protect the vote, with airports and borders shut for the day.

Polling stations are open until 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) and initial results are expected in three days.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, May 12 2018. 10:30 IST
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