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Monday: Despite Violence, Iraqis Head to Polls; Hundreds Killed in Nigeria

Kurdish Iraqi men read newspapers

— Kurdish Iraqis read newspapers in the northern city of Arbil a day after Sunday’s general elections. Photo by Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images.

Braving insurgent attacks that killed at least 38 people, Iraqis flocked to the polls Sunday for parliamentary elections that will ultimately decide which lawmakers will rule the fledgling democracy upon the withdrawal of U.S. forces in August.

Despite as many as 100 blasts in Baghdad alone, turnout for the election was between 55 and 60 percent, according to the head of Iraq’s electoral commission, Faraj al-Haidari. And while official results are still days away, it is largely expected that no single coalition will win a majority in the nation’s 325-seat parliament.

Absent an outright majority, the political party that wins the most seats will be forced to piece together enough votes to form a government, elect a prime minister and fill other key posts. Following the 2005 vote, that process lasted 156 days. Once again, Iraq is bracing for months of political uncertainty that will test its ability to overcome sectarian divides.

“Just like a cardiologist puts a patient on a treadmill and checks his vital signs, I actually think this election, and, importantly, the post-election period, how the leaders deal with the coalition-building and others, it tests how viable Iraq’s political system is,” Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told the NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer last week.

For now, the race appears too-close-to-call between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Al-Maliki, who leads a party mostly made up of Shiites, campaigned for a second term on improved security conditions, while Allawi, a Shiite allied with Sunni politicians, ran on a platform of secularism in government.

In Washington, President Barack Obama praised Iraqis for taking part in the election despite the threat of insurgent violence. “I have great respect for the millions of Iraqis who refused to be deterred by acts of violence and who exercised their right to vote today,” the president said in a statement. “Their participation demonstrates that the Iraqi people have chosen to shape their future through the political process.”

Nevertheless, it is still too early to declare the election, or Iraq for that matter, a success, according to Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. He writes:

“Many Westerners now see Iraq as a solved problem …This view is premature, however. Iraq is indeed far less violent than it was. But it is too early to judge this a permanent success. To leave Iraq to its own devices now is to court a serious risk that the country could slide back to the open warfare of 2007 or worse – with serious consequences for Westerners as well as Iraqis.”

Indeed, in the end, Iraq’s “institutions may be too weak, and its politicians too greedy, to save democracy,” says the Economist.

Hundreds Killed in Nigeria

Ethnic clashes over the weekend in Nigeria have killed more than 200 hundred people, including many women and children. The attacks are believed to be in revenge for the deaths of more than 300 hundred people near the city of Jos in January, the BBC reports.

The attacks over weekend were against Christians, while the killings in January were targeted toward Muslims.

“For weeks there have been rumors of retaliation in these villages and people have been living in a state of anxiety. Many families left. These killings are often painted by local politicians as a religious or sectarian conflict. In fact it is a struggle between ethnic groups for fertile land and resources in the region known as Nigeria’s Middle Belt,” writes the BBC’s Caroline Duffield.

“The Hurt Locker” Wins Best Picture

At the Academy Awards, “The Hurt Locker” won the Oscar for best picture. Jeff Bridges was named best actor for his role in “Crazy Heart,” while Sandra Bullock took home the best actress award for “The Blind Side.”

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