However, the vote was marred by widespread apathy and a boycott of many young activists who marched through Baghdad's southern provinces in the latter part of 2019. Tens of thousands took part in the protests, which were met by tear gas and live ammunition from security forces. In just a few short months, more than 600 people were killed and many others were injured.
Although the authorities called the early elections and accepted the death toll, many protestors later called for a boycott.
After 11 hours of voting, polls were closed at 1500 GMT (1800 GMT) According to an independent body overseeing Iraq's elections, results are expected within 24 hours. Negotiations to select a prime minister to form a government are expected drag on for several weeks or months.
This election was the sixth since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq. Many doubted that the independent candidates of the protest movement would be able to defeat established parties and politicians, many backed by powerful militias.
Minutes after the polls were closed, fireworks set off by Baghdad's municipality took place in Tahrir Square. This is where protestors had erected tents since October 2019, which was several months ago. Due to security measures and then the coronavirus pandemic, protests were stopped by February 2019.
The square is largely empty today. Although the country is facing huge security and economic challenges, most Iraqis want change. However, very few people expect that it will happen in the wake of the elections.
Muna Hussein (22-year-old cinematic make-up artist) said that she didn't feel safe in a "safe environment with uncontrolled weapons everywhere" referring to the Shiite militias supported by Iran.
She stated that it was difficult to hold fair and free elections in the current environment.
Amir Fadel (22-year-old car dealer) disagreed. After casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karradah district, he stated that he didn't want the same faces or same parties to come back.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Iraq's Prime Minister), whose chances of a second term will depend on the results of the election, encouraged Iraqis to vote large.
Al-Kadhimi said, "Get out and vote. And change your future." He repeated the phrase "get out" three more times after casting his ballot at a school within Baghdad's Green Zone, which is home to foreign embassies as well as government offices.
The laws of Iraq allow the winner of Sunday’s vote to elect the next prime minister. However, it is unlikely that any of the competing alliances will be able to secure a clear majority. This will take a long process that involves backroom negotiations in order to choose a consensus prime minster and agree on a coalition government. After the 2018 elections, it took eight months of political wrangling before a government was formed.
The electoral landscape is dominated by groups drawn from Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims. A tight race is expected between Moqtada al-Sadr (Iraq's Shiite cleric) and the Fatah Alliance (led by Hadi al-Ameri who came in second in previous elections.
The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties that are affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces. This umbrella group, which consists mainly of pro-Iran Shiite militias, rose to prominence during war against Sunni extremist Islamic State. It also includes the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a militia that is Iran-backed. Al-Sadr is a black-turbaned nationalist who is also close to Iran but publicly rejects its political influence.
Al-Sadr had cast his vote earlier Sunday in Najaf, the Shiite holy town. Local journalists surrounded him. Al-Sadr then drove off in a white sedan, without commenting. Al-Sadr is a populist with a large following among Iraq's working-class Shiites. He won a majority of the seats in the 2018 elections.
This election marks the first time since Saddam's fall that there has been no curfew. It is a reflection of the much improved security situation in the country after the defeat of IS 2017. The country has been plagued for decades by bomb attacks and fighting, which made it difficult to vote in the past.
Over 250,000 national security personnel were assigned to protect the vote. Anti-terrorism and police forces, as well as soldiers, were deployed to the polling stations. Some of these were also surrounded by barbed wire. Voters were searched and patted.
Security precaution: Iraq closed its airspace, land border crossings and scrambled their air force between Saturday night and Monday morning.
Another first is Sunday's election under a new election code. This law divides Iraq into smaller constituents, another demand from the activists who participated in the 2019 protests. It also allows for more independent candidates.
In 2018, only 44% of eligible voters voted, which was a record low and contested by many. This time, there are concerns about a lower or similar turnout.
Reem Abdulhadi, a candidate, walked into a Karradah tea shop to inquire if people had cast their votes.
The tea vendor joked, "I will give mine vote to Umm Kalthoum the singer, she's the only one who should it," referring to the beloved Egyptian singer. He stated that he would not participate in the election and did not believe in the political process.
Abdulhadi, who requested anonymity, gave Abdulhadi a card that contained her name and number, after a few words. He took it out of his pocket.
He said, "Thank you. I will keep it as souvenir."
A low-flying, high speed military aircraft flew overhead, making a loud screeching sound. This is what you should be hearing. This is terror. He added that it reminded him of war and not elections.