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Ahead of Iraq election results news reports say Sunni, Kurd turnout strong

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Karim Kadim/AP

(Read caption) An Iraqi Army soldier stands guard near ballot boxes outside a counting center in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday. Sunni and Kurd turnout was reported to be strong in this historic election.

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The Iraq election committee is expected to have a third of the votes from Sunday’s parliamentary elections counted by today, with the first results to be announced tomorrow. But it's already known that there was far greater participation in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces than in previous parliamentary votes.

As reported by the Monitor this week, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission put total turnout at 62 percent – slightly higher than the 55 to 60 percent observers expected, but a significant drop from the 79.6 percent turnout in the last parliamentary elections four years ago.

It was, however, comparable to the 58 percent turnout in a January 2005 election for an interim parliament, which Sunnis largely boycotted. Since Sunnis comprise roughly a third of Iraq’s population, that means that Shiite Arabs and Kurds must have voted in quite high numbers in that election five years ago.

So far indications are that Sunni Arab participation in Sunday’s election was greater than Shiite Arab turnout. In the predominately Sunni province of Salahuddin, nearly 75 percent of voters headed to the polls, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In Anbar, another largely Sunni province and a one-time hotbed of insurgent activity, 61 percent of registered voters came to the polls – a huge improvement over the 2 percent who voted in January 2005, reports the Financial Times.

The Guardian newspaper, based in London, also reports a strong Kurdish turnout but doesn’t offer any percentages. One thing that’s clear though is that the upstart Gorran party, which reportedly won up to a dozen seats, is likely to lead to major upheaval in the way Kurdish politics are conducted – and how the autonomous Kurdistan region deals with Baghdad. (For more on Gorran, Sam Dagher offers a perspective well-worth reading in Saturday’s New York Times.)

One of US officials’ top concerns going into Sunday’s elections was the potential for Arab-Kurdish tensions to flare into violence, the Monitor reported from Salahadin last week.

With such a strong showing from Kurdish voters, it’s very possible that Arab leaders – none of whose parties are strong enough to govern outright – will need to incorporate a Kurdish party in their coalition. (Canada’s Globe and Mail paper offers a simple sketch of how the coalition-building process works.)

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Initial results from the election, based on a third of ballots, are expected Wednesday evening in Iraq, with official results due March 18 – allowing officials time to consider any appeals, reported Agence France Presse.

Al Jazeera correspondent Mike Hanna in Baghdad said the early results may not be representative of the final tally. More than 6,000 candidates from 86 political groups were competing for the 325 seats in parliament.

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