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Iraqis go to polls amid heightened security

IRAQIS passed through security checkpoints and razor wire cordons to vote yesterday in provincial elections that are considered a crucial test of the nation's stability as American officials consider the pace of troop withdrawals.

Polls opened shortly after dawn after a step-by-step security clampdown across the country, including traffic bans in central Baghdad and other major cities and a closure of border crossings and airports.

There were no reports of serious violence as voting got under way. In Tikrit, about 130 kilometers north of Baghdad, three mortar shells exploded near a polling station, but caused no casualties, said police.

A bomb was defused after being found near a Tikrit voting center, police added.

More than 14,000 candidates are running for 440 seats on the influential councils. Preliminary results are expected on Tuesday.


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