April 20 - Iraqis vote for provincial councils in their first ballot since U.S. troops left the country, a key measure of political strength before parliamentary elections next year. Lily Grimes reports.
Proud to participate, this man holds up an ink-stained finger after casting his vote in Iraq's provincial council elections. It's the first time Iraqis have been to the ballot box since U.S. troops left the country in December 2011. And it's a key measure of political strength before parliamentary elections next year. Security, jobs and basic services are top of the list for many Iraqis. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) ADNAN MOHAMMED AL-QURAISHI, SAYING: "We didn't get anything over the past ten years but we hope that things will change in the coming four years. Only God can save his people. We have voted and we hope to see a change in the future." Iraqi politics are deeply split along sectarian lines with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government struggling to divide power among Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. Violent attacks and suicide bombings have surged since the start of the year and more than a dozen candidates, mostly Sunni, have been killed while campaigning. Thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets to protest what they say is the marginalisation of their sect by Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.