Voters in Iraq were casting their ballots amid tight security on Saturday in provincial elections being held against the backdrop of sectarian violence that has already claimed the lives of 14 candidates in the run up to the polls. This is the first election in Iraq since US troops withdrew in December 2011, nearly a decade after it led an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Mortar shells were fired at two polling stations, security officials said. Several shells struck a polling station in the town of Baiji, some 200 km north of the capital Baghdad, causing no casualties.

One person was injured when two shells landed near a polling station in Maseeb, a town situated some 50 km south of Baghdad, the officials said.

About 13.5 million people are eligible to vote at 514 polling stations in 12 out of the country’s 18 provinces. The 8,302 candidates contesting 447 seats include 2,205 women. No dates have been set for the vote in the disputed province of Kirkuk or the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Authorities postponed the vote in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar and Nineveh over security concerns.

The decision has widened the rift between the Shiite-led Government and Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, raising fears of a return to the sectarian violence that drove the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Polling is to close at 1700 hrs (1400 GMT).

More In: World | International | News