Iraqi security forces and the diaspora began casting their ballots on Thursday as the country gears up for its first parliamentary elections since declaring victory over ISIS.
Almost one million security officers are eligible to vote in nearly 500 polling centres across Iraq, while 130 centres have been set up in 21 countries to host more than 800,000 voters, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).
"Polling centres have opened today in Jordan, Egypt, Iran and the UAE," Sawsan Ahmed, the IHEC's spokeswomen, told The National.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, 210,000 military officers are entitled to vote as the country prepares to open the polls on Saturday,
Iraqi citizens in Australia and New Zealand are optimistic about being the first Iraqis to cast their votes.
“I’m proud to say that I have voted and can have an influence in the formation of Iraq’s future, even though I am based in Sydney. I’m hopeful for Saturday’s ballot,” said Rana Al Hassani, a 21-year old law student.
Polls will open nationwide in Iraq on May 12, which marks the fourth parliamentary elections since the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
"I'm weary of what the future holds for Iraq, but I'm hoping that Saturday's elections will present a new chapter for our war-torn country," Maurice Hanna, a businessman from Christchurch in New Zealand, told The National.
Voters will be choosing from among 7,000 candidates competing for 329 seats in parliament.
Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi is running for re-election after taking office in September 2014, shortly after much of the Iraqi military collapsed in the face of an ISIS advance that saw a third of the country fall into the hands of the extremists.
“I call upon all Iraqis to turn out and take part in the elections to choose who will represent them in parliament; this is their constitutional right,” Mr Al Abadi said on Tuesday.
The premier told reporters that “measurements are in place to ensure a secure and peaceful electoral environment."
On Wednesday, the electoral security committee announced the closure of airports and border crossings for 24 hours on May 12. The shutdown will come into effect at midnight on Friday.
Security forces will also suspend travel between provinces and restrict the movement of vehicles on Saturday, before easing the measures “gradually” after polls close.
Despite earlier declarations about the group’s defeat, ISIS sleeper cells continues to carry out bombings, assassinations and ambushes, and remains active in neighbouring Syria where it has also lost most of its territory.