Polling stations in Iraq's provincial election will be held open an extra hour to 6:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Saturday to give more people the opportunity to vote, electoral authorities said.
"The voting has been extended for an hour to make a wider opportunity for voters to cast ballots, especially as the security situation is fine," Hisham al-Suhail, an official at the Independent High Electoral Commission told Reuters.
Iraqis voted behind barbed wire and rings of police in provincial election because of rising violence after US invasion.
Iraq's first election since 2005 will pick local councils in 14 of its 18 provinces.
A relatively peaceful and credible election will show Iraq has moved on from solving disputes with bullets, and will set the stage for a parliamentary vote late in the year, in which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will seek to renew his mandate.
Maliki is challenging dominant Shi'ite rivals in the south, tribal sheikhs, and Arabs in the north who boycotted the last vote are looking to win a share of power from Kurds there.
Hope for changes
"My suffering has pushed me to vote," said electoral worker Asad Wahayab in the southern oil city of Basra, who added that after the election he would go back to being unemployed. "We have suffered a lot and this is our chance to vote for change."
Just under 15 million of Iraq's 28 million people have registered to vote for provincial councils that select powerful regional governors. Three Kurdish provinces are to vote separately and the election in oil-rich, disputed Kirkuk has been put off because no one could agree on election rules.
Around 14,400 candidates are competing for 440 council seats in exuberant campaigning that has been made possible by a sharp drop in violence over the past 18 months.
Layers of campaign posters decorate the blast walls that divide Iraqi neighbourhoods, and balloons bearing political messages compete in the skies with airships used by U.S. forces to spot mortar or rocket attacks by militants.
Thousands of Iraqi police and troops guarded the polling centres. Cars were banned from cities to counter car bombs, airports and borders were shut and voters were being frisked for explosives-laden suicide vests and scanned for bomb residue.
"I can't express exactly how I feel," said voter Mohammad Ogla as he arrived at a voting station at a school in Baghdad's Karrada district. "(But) I believe my vote will make a change."
Five candidates have been assassinated in the run-up to the election, three of them on Thursday.
In the Shi'ite south, including, Basra, Maliki's State of Law coalition is testing its strength against the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
In the western province of Anbar, once the heartland of Sunni Islamist opposition to the U.S. occupiers, tribal chiefs are hoping to gain power at the expense of the traditional Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party.
The ballot may help ease violence in the northern provinces of Nineveh and Diyala, where Sunni Arabs who boycotted the last vote are seeking a share of political power.
Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2009, 16:41