Iraqi officials say allies of Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki made a strong showing in Saturday's provincial elections.
Officials said today (Sunday) that early projections show candidates backed by Mr. Maliki performed well in southern Iraq's Shi'ite heartland.
Many Iraqi Shi'ites credit the prime minister with reducing violence in the south after he ordered a military crackdown on Shi'ite militias last year.
Iraq's election commission says turnout for the vote in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces was 51 percent, or about seven and a-half-million people. Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi leaders had hoped for a turnout of more than 60 percent.
The absence of major violence during the elections drew praise from Iraqi, U.S. and British leaders. Iraqi officials say fewer than 200 Iraqis were killed in violence in January -- the lowest monthly toll since the Iraq war began in 2003.
Four U.S. soldiers were killed by hostile fire in Iraq during January, while 12 others died in non-combat incidents.
Observers say several factors were behind the lower-than-predicted turnout for the provincial elections. They say some Iraqis stayed away because of disillusionment with politicians who have made little progress in improving basic municipal services.
Some Iraqis also complained that it was too hard to reach polling stations because of security restrictions on vehicle traffic. Others could not cast a vote because their names were not included on registration lists.
An Iraqi Kurdish official (Fuad Hussain) says about 70-thousand ethnic Kurds in the provinces of Nineveh and Diyala were unfairly denied the right to vote. He says the Kurds were left out of voter lists despite having handed their food ration cards to Iraqi authorities as part of the voter registration process.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the French news agency that the 51 percent turnout is in line with international figures for local and provincial polls. Baghdad's turnout was about 40 percent.
Turnout was high among Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted Iraq's last provincial elections in January 2005. Officials say Sunni participation boosted turnout in Nineveh to 60 percent and in Anbar province to 40 percent.
A strong showing by Mr. Maliki's allies would give him a boost against more orthodox religious Shi'ite parties in national elections due later this year.
U.S. President Barack Obama called the elections an important step forward as Iraqis continue taking responsibility for their future.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says Iraqis showed their commitment to democracy by, in his words, braving the threat of intimidation to vote.