BAGHDAD - Iraqis streamed to voting centres nationwide on Wednesday, amid the worst bloodshed in years, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seeks reelection in the first national vote since US troops withdrew.
Voters have a long list of grievances, ranging from poor public services to rampant corruption and high unemployment, but the month-long campaign has centred on Maliki's bid for a third term and a dramatic deterioration in security in recent months.
More than 20 million voters will choose between upwards of 9,000 candidates running for 328 seats in parliament throughout the day, from the opening of voting at 7am (0400 GMT) until 6pm (1500 GMT).
The run-up to the election has seen Baghdad and other major cities swamped in posters and bunting.
Parties have staged rallies and would-be lawmakers have angrily debated on television, though appeals to voters have largely been made on sectarian, ethnic or tribal grounds rather than the issues.
Attacks on polling stations and campaign gatherings in recent days have cast a pall over the vote, and spurred fears that much of the electorate could stay home rather than risk being targeted.
In particular, the two days preceding the election saw more than 80 people killed in a spate of shootings and bombings, mostly concentrated in Baghdad and the restive north and west.
But many Iraqis have said they will head to voting centres regardless.
"I will go to vote... to take part in changing the current situation and the current faces after eight years of economic and security failure from a government in a country whose budget reaches tens of billions of dollars," said architect Ahmed Adel, 40, referring to the successive four-year terms secured by Maliki.
"We must go to the polls, whatever the circumstances. Whoever does not go is wasting his rights, and the rights of others."