The polls have closed in northern Iraq, where millions of Iraqi Kurds
are now awaiting results of an election that could have a lasting
impact on the autonomous region and its relationship with Baghdad.
Some voters danced in the streets Saturday after casting their ballots for the region's president and parliament.
About 2.5 million people were eligible to vote in the three self-ruled, northern provinces (Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniyah) and many said they hope the outcome will help stabilize the region and ease tensions.
The autonomous region has been locked in a bitter feud with Baghdad
over land and oil. But at a news conference in Irbil Saturday, the
region's prime minister (Nechirvan Barzani) promised to resolve the differences through negotiations.
The ballots will now to flown to Baghdad where they will be tallied.
Results are expected within two to three days, but the region's
electoral chief (Faraj al-Haidari) has warned that technical problems could delay official results for weeks.
Iraq's electoral commission extended voting by an hour after problems
were discovered at polling stations across the region. Officials said
some Iraqi Kurds were unable to find their names on voter rolls sent to
Other election officials said there were few reports of problems and said turnout had been heavy.
Political observers expect incumbent President Massoud Barzani to win re-election, while his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) are expected to win most of the 111 seats in parliament.
Ten parliamentary seats are reserved for two of Kurdistan's minority population groups, Christians and Turkmen.
Ethnic tension between Kurds and Arabs, particularly in Kirkuk, also is
considered a threat to Iraqi stability, and is a major issue for many
Despite increased security measures for the election, a roadside bomb detonated in Kirkuk, wounding four policemen.
Elsewhere in Iraq, at least four people were killed and 21 wounded when
two car bombs went off near the offices of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a
Sunni Arab political party.
And a car bomb in northern Baghdad Saturday killed one person and wounded another.