The polls are already open for this weekend's provincial elections in Iraq, the nation's first since it became a fully sovereign nation after the fall of Saddam. The Sunni minority is participating, reports the Christian Science Monitor, and Iraqis can vote for more than 14,000 candidates vying for 440 seats. After the ballot fraud that marred the 2005 election, this time the UN has provided substantial electoral aid, from 20 million ballots printed outside Iraq to special ink that stains voters' fingers purple.
One of the most interesting strands of this election is the fate of Kurdish politicians, who triumphed in 2005 but may struggle now that Sunnis are no longer boycotting the vote. The poll is also a test for PM Nouri al-Maliki, who faces a national election later this year. Despite security fears the mood remains upbeat. "The first election was a practice run for this," said one politician. "This is a first step toward building a democratic state."