April 30 - Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr casts his vote in Najaf to elect the country's new parliament, as Iraqi leaders and officials vote in Baghdad. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Shi'ite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr casts his vote Wednesday to elect the country's new parliament in Iraq's first national election since U.S. forces withdrew in 2011. Sadr spearheaded militant uprisings against U.S. forces before their withdrawal in December 2011. Last February, Sadr announced that he was leaving political life and dissolved his movement. He now is urging supporters to vote as Prime Minister Nuri Maliki seeks a third term. In Baghdad, Iraqi officials and political leaders cast their ballots. Iraq's Sunni Muslim parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, seen as Maliki's main rival, ruled out any alliance with Maliki. (SOUNDBITE) (ARABIC) IRAQ'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER, OSAMA AL-NUJAIFI, SAYING: "This is a deferred matter now, we have red lines and we will not forge an alliance with the current prime minister at all." Political analysts say no party is likely to win a majority. The coming period will test Iraq's democracy. It took nine months to seat a government after the last election in 2010. That race took place with tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers in the country. This time, Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish parties are outspoken about their wish for Maliki to go, but Maliki is still expected to perform better than his opponents.