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IRAQ: Election fever sets in

January 24, 2009 | 12:50 pm

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With just one week to go before millions of Iraqis vote in elections that could drastically alter the power equation across the country, campaigning is at a peak, and it's hard to find a signpost, wall or building facade not plastered with election material. More than 14,500 candidates are vying for 440 seats on the country's provincial councils, so there is stiff competition not only for seats but for places to hang campaign signs.

For more on Iraq's election frenzy, read on.

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In a country where few candidates have the means to produce glossy election literature, most simply splash letters across white sheets or poster paper and drape the signs between trees or signposts, as the two gentlemen above were doing one recent day in central Baghdad. Others use photographs or portraits of themselves, such as the candidate below, an engineer whose choice of picture apparently was aimed at showing voters he is a working man of the people, not a suited elitist.

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Parliament member Mithal Alusi also went for the casual look in the poster below, shedding his usual tailored jacket and including a photograph of a boy slurping untreated water to get across his party's message that it will improve essential services for Baghdad residents.

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The man in this next poster doesn't have to worry about coming across as too button-down. He's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is expected to wear a suit and tie. Maliki's Dawa Party faces stiff competition from other Shiite parties in Shiite-dominated areas such as Baghdad and the southern provinces.

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One of the most hotly contested areas will be the southern oil city of Basra, which Maliki visited Friday. In a speech to residents, Maliki reminded them that his decision to crack down last spring on Shiite militias that controlled Basra had turned the city around. "We have accomplished much in record time," Maliki said of his government, citing not only the changes in Basra but the passage of an agreement with the United States that is supposed to end the U.S. troop presence in Iraq by the end of 2011.

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Iraq's last provincial elections were held in 2005 and were boycotted by Sunni groups, leaving most provinces dominated by Shiites and Kurds. Officials say that has contributed to the ethnic and sectarian tensions across the country and that that vote should repair the problem. According to the United Nations, about 15 million people have registered to vote. Balloting will take place Jan. 31 from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at most polling places.

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-- Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photos: Saad Khalaf / Los Angeles Times

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