Iraqi Kurds go to polls

A Kurdish woman shows her ink-stained finger at a polling station in Arbil, north of Baghdad, on Saturday. Reuters

 Polls will close in the largely autonomous northern region at 6 pm, after which ballots will be flown to Baghdad for tallying. The official count is expected to take at least 2-3 days if there are no challenges.

The people of the relatively peaceful enclave will elect a president directly this time, unlike 2005 polls that selected a parliament alone, and former guerrilla leader Barzani looks certain to defeat his five competitors.

Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Democratic Union of Kurdistan, the region’s most powerful parties, will run for seats on a joint list against 23 alliances of smaller parties.

As the poll drew near, Barzani and other Kurdish leaders churned out fiery rhetoric about claims to territories they contest with Baghdad’s Arab-led government.

Diplomats see the row over oil-producing Kirkuk and other disputed areas as a major threat to Iraq’s long-term stability as sectarian violence fades, but many Kurds support Barzani’s hardline approach against Baghdad, from where Saddam Hussein launched deadly attacks against Kurds in the 1980s.

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