Gunmen lay siege to Kirkuk voting stations, block count

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Gunmen have laid siege to several polling stations in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, trapping election workers and blocking the vote count four days after a national election.

Riyadh al-Badran, head of the electoral commission, said on Wednesday that the gunmen – whom he did not identify – were putting pressure on the commission to change the election results.

“The employees of the commission are in a hostage situation,” he told a news conference.

He called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to protect the election team.

About 90 percent of the votes from Kirkuk, an ethnically-mixed oil province at the heart of a long-running dispute with the Kurds, have been counted, Badran said.

The initial results from Kirkuk indicated a win for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a historical Iraqi Kurdish party, the commission said on Tuesday.

But the Turkmen and Arab communities have disputed those results and called for a recount.

The dispute in Kirkuk, as well as in Kurdish Duhok, where local parties have contested the results, have delayed the final nationwide results.

Badran said that figure should be announced in the next two days.

The Sairoon Alliance of Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr appears poised to win Iraq’s parliamentary elections. Reports indicate that Sairoon – an alliance between the Sadrist Movement and Iraq’s Communist Party – won more than 1.3 million votes, gaining 54 in a 329-seat parliament.

Iran-backed Shia militia chief Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah (Conquest) coalition was in second place, while Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) coalition is in third.

Saturday’s election was the first since the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Turnout fell far short of previous elections with only 44.5 percent of registered voters participating. The turnout was 15 percent lower than in 2014.