Sat, Feb 07, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Iraqi PM’s bloc sweeps to victory in provincial vote

AFP AND AP , BAGHDAD

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid a surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki one day after the Shiite leader’s bloc swept to victory in provincial elections.

“Mr Ban Ki-moon is here in Iraq to reiterate the UN’s commitment to the country,” UN spokesman Said Arikat said.

“He will meet the prime minister and above all congratulate the Iraqi people on the success of largely violence-free elections,” he said.

An AFP reporter said that Ban first met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in the Iraqi capital.

The UN chief’s previously unannounced visit comes after preliminary results of last Saturday’s election showed that candidates backed by the prime minister dominated an election that is expected to reshape Iraq’s fractured political landscape.

The UN provided the Independent High Electoral Commission with assistance in organizing the poll, which was in 14 of 18 provinces.

The result was a major vote of confidence for the prime minister, whose standing has grown steadily both at home and abroad over the past year.

Candidates backed by Maliki dominated in Baghdad and in eight of the country’s nine Shiite-majority provinces.

Just over half of the Iraqi electorate voted last Saturday in the provincial poll, which was seen as a vital test of the country’s progress since the US-led invasion ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein from power almost six years ago.

Maliki, a Shiite, did not stand in the elections but threw his backing behind candidates from the country’s State of Law Coalition, and its win lays the early groundwork ahead of parliamentary polls in about 12 months.

The elections were seen as a sign of progress as they passed off without major violence and were hailed as a political milestone for the future of Iraq ahead of the national polls due at the end of this or early next year.

Voting in the country’s last poll in 2005 was staged against a background of a brutal insurgency and sectarian violence between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni communities, and was also marred by a Sunni Arab boycott.

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