On the day before Iraq's historic elections, severe security restrictions to thwart insurgent attacks are being imposed across the country.
The streets of Erbil are usually packed with traffic. But as of Saturday morning, many of the city's roads were unusually quiet. On Friday night, security forces set up more and more concrete barricades to block off many of the major streets, especially those near important buildings and polling places.
With so many street closures, drivers are forced to find alternate routes through back alleys, or across unpaved areas.
Forces of the Iraqi National Guard are everywhere, in greater numbers and more heavily armed than in recent days. Checkpoints have been set up even in seemingly quiet neighborhoods to check cars. At hotels and other major buildings, dogs sniff vehicles and occupants for possible explosives. Military trucks with machine guns are stationed in some areas.
The political campaigning of the past weeks officially ended Friday evening. But campaign posters for the many candidates for the National Assembly and regional government of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region are still up everywhere, along with those from the Independent Election Commission of Iraq urging people to vote. In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, turnout is expected to be especially heavy.
A curfew for security reasons is in effect from 10 pm Saturday to 6 am Sunday, one hour before the polls open. Shops in this northern Iraqi city were busy Saturday, with people stocking up on food and other supplies to carry them through Sunday's restrictions. Vehicle traffic will be banned, except for security, police and those with official permission.
But people say these are minor inconveniences, meant to help ensure a successful election they hope will give them a political voice in Baghdad.