BAGHDAD: Iraqis in two Sunni-majority provinces voted under heavy security in delayed provincial polls on Thursday which were marred by mortar attacks on polling stations that left two policemen dead.
The elections, postponed for two months in Anbar and Nineveh provinces due to security concerns, come amid a long-running political deadlock and are seen as a key gauge of politicians' popularity ahead of general elections next year.
And while the heavy security largely managed to deter attacks through the course of the day, officials said two policemen were killed by mortar rounds during voting in Anbar's provincial capital Ramadi, and a party leader in Nineveh and four of his family members were killed by a suicide bomber on the eve of the vote.
Though provincial councils are responsible for a swathe of key issues ranging from basic services to some areas of reconstruction, Iraqis still lack adequate clean water and electricity, and some voters voiced frustration with poor government performance.
"I have come to the polling centre not to vote, but just to destroy my ballot," said Fahd Ismail, a 20-year-old university student in Nineveh's capital Mosul.
"I saw that students who graduated before me got nothing from the government, and now we are in the same situation."
Some 2.8 million voters in Anbar and Nineveh, which lie in Iraq's west and north respectively, were choosing between 1,185 candidates from 44 political parties jostling for 69 provincial council seats in all.
The polls are taking place two months after elections were held in 12 other Iraqi provinces in the centre and south of the country.
Officials cited security concerns when they announced the postponement to the Anbar and Nineveh votes, though critics saw the delay by Shiite-led authorities as politically-motivated and it was widely criticised by diplomats.
Tight security measures were put in place for the elections in the two provinces where nine candidates have been killed in the run-up to the vote, according to the United Nations.
Nineveh, for example, implemented a province-wide ban on vehicle traffic.
The provincial elections are seen as a key gauge of the popularity of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has been charged by his critics of consolidating power, ahead of parliamentary elections next year.
No landmark legislation has been passed since 2010 general elections, and analysts say a prolonged political stalemate and months-long protests in Sunni areas have contributed to a surge in nationwide violence which has sparked fears of a return to the brutal sectarian war that blighted Iraq in 2006 and 2007.