Heavy security as Iraq goes to polls

BAGHDAD - There is heavy security across Iraq as the country votes in its first parliamentary elections since US troops withdrew three years ago.

Polling began at 07:00 local time (04:00 GMT) and closes at 18:00.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping to win a third term in office amid a growing insurgency in the west of the country.

Iraq is experiencing its worst unrest since 2008, with 160 people killed in the past week alone.

Some 22 million Iraqis are registered to vote, with almost 50,000 polling stations open across the country.

The BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Baghdad says the streets of the capital are almost empty because it is in lockdown.

He says that many of the voters will have to go on foot - the authorities have banned cars for the day in an effort to stop suicide attacks and car bombers.

Some voters face multiple searches before being allowed into polling stations.

The first incidence of violence reported on Wednesday was in the town of Dibis, near Kirkuk in the north, where police said a roadside bomb had killed two women walking to a polling station.

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