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Millions of Iraqis headed Saturday to polling stations across the country to elect the next parliament, with hopes that the election can make a difference to their lives after unrelenting chaos, violence and poor governance since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The polls kicked off at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) as the voters lined up to cast their ballots.

Kamil Khudir, a middle-aged man, was very happy to be the first to cast the vote at a polling center in Salhiyah neighborhood in downtown Baghdad.

“I expect the voting can bring better life for our people. Young people are jobless and we need public services. We need everything,” Khudir told Xinhua.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, also the commander-in-chief of Iraqi forces, let the guards search him at a polling center in Karrada district before he entered to vote, sending a message that the voters should abide by the security instructions.

“This election is decisive for the future of Iraq. Therefore, I call on all Iraqis to participate in the elections, so there will be a massive turnout for people to draw their future in their hands,” Abadi told the official TV Iraqiya.

With the help of her daughter, Om Ghassan, an old disabled woman with keenness to cast her vote, headed to a nearby polling center in Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad.

“I want peace for my grandsons. I want to hold those who have squandered the wealth of the country accountable,” Ghassan told Xinhua.

“We had enough oppression and violence. We have to do something, at least by choosing the right people, because we need a professional leadership that could end our suffering,” she said.
The retired teacher attributed her voting enthusiasm to the diminished sectarianism in the 2018 election.

“The sound of sectarianism was clear (in 2014), but in this election sectarianism is much less, and security situation has much improved after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS) group,” Om Ghassan explained.

For most Iraqis, fighting widespread corruption and a comprehensive reform are essential to building an accountable government and forging a strong Iraqi nation.

Mustafa Abu Sara, a middle-aged man living in al-Qahira neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, is one of those who chose to walk several kilometers to polling centers despite a traffic ban during the voting hours in Iraqi cities.

“I have been walking all this distance with the hope of electing a new state that really respects civil rights for all citizens,” he told Xinhua.

Abu Sara urged Iraqis to actively vote to “replace the corrupt people with honest ones who work for the interests of Iraq.”

Salwa al-Nu’aimy, a female engineer and a candidate from al-Qarar (Decision) Coalition, a Sunni coalition led by the former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, said she hopes for a new beginning in Iraq.

“I hope that a new state can be built. A state with independent institutions that would respect civil rights of all people and treat them equally regardless of their religious and ethnic backgrounds,” Nu’aimy told Xinhua, after casting her vote in Salhiyah neighborhood.

Many Iraqis, however, admit that it takes time and patience for the democratic process to achieve its goals.

“With the democratic change in the country, we reject the presence of corrupt people, and we have come to vote for hope that change can come true,” Hameed al-Mosawi, a journalist, told Xinhua after he and six of his family members cast their votes.

More than 24 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in as many as 8,959 polling centers across Iraq in the first general election since Iraq’s historic victory over the IS militants last December.

About 7,000 candidates, representing 205 political entities, are competing for the 329 parliamentary seats to form a new government which will rule Iraq for the next four years. Enditem

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