A key election for a new Iraqi parliament was underway today amid a massive security operation as the country continues to slide deeper into sectarian violence, more than two years after US forces left. Hundreds of thousands of troops and police have fanned out to guard voting centers for the first nationwide balloting since the 2011 American pullout. In central Baghdad, police and soldiers manned checkpoints every few hundred yards, while pickup trucks with machine guns perched on top roamed the streets. Much of the city looked deserted and most stores were closed.
Authorities also closed Iraq's airspace for the elections, and slapped a ban on vehicles to reduce the threat of car bombings. A Shiite party led by Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister of eight years, is expected to win the most seats but is unlikely to win a majority, meaning he will have to cobble together a coalition if he is to keep his job—a tough task given the harsh criticism he has been under from his one-time Shiite, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish allies. The death toll in Iraq has climbed to its highest levels since the worst of the sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007 and the violence shows no signs of ceasing for the election: Back-to-back bombs ripped through an outdoor market northeast of Baghdad yesterday, the deadliest in separate attacks that officials said killed 24 people.