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Iraqi Kurds Await Results of Crucial Vote

As polls closed Saturday, Iraqi Kurds are hoping the results, expected in two to three days, will help ease tensions with Baghdad over oil and land disputes that threaten the stability in the self-ruled region.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party (PUK) and veteran Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) are expected to keep control over the Kurdish parliament, but face a strong challenge from younger opponents.

It is the first time the president of Kurdistan is being elected directly by popular vote. Parliamentary elections were last held in 2005.

Kurdish television showed top political leaders casting their ballots, and encouraging their supporters to follow their example and vote.

From Washington, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged Kurdish voters to use their right to vote:

He says that it is imperative for Kurds to turn out and vote in large numbers, in what we hope will be a clean, transparent election. Kurds, he says, have the chance to choose their leaders, who will play a role alongside those of other Iraqi regions, who on the national level will help build a democratic, federal, independent, stable and prosperous Iraq.

Breakaway Kurdish politician Nusherwan Mustafa, who's Party of Change is fighting to clean up what he calls "nepotism, corruption, and cronyism" has pockets of support across Kurdistan, but is unlikely to win a majority in parliament.

Mr. Barzani, whose father Mustapha was the champion of Kurdish nationalism for decades, told a press conference that he hoped to resolve frictions with Baghdad over the oil-rich, ethnically divided city of Kirkuk.

He says that the problem of Kirkuk is a constitutional issue and that it must be solved according to the constitution. Such problems, he adds, must be solved and we hope that they will be solved. Letting problems fester, he argues, can have bad consequences.

Minor glitches in an otherwise smooth election process were cited by election observers, such as the use of the wrong kind of ink, inaccurate voting lists and rival gangs of young men pulling down campaign posters.

Judge Qassem Abboudi of Iraq's Electoral Commission told al Hurra TV that polling stations were expected to send ballot boxes to commission's headquarters, after the last voters had voted:

He says that polling stations are sending ballot boxes to the central headquarters of the Electoral Commission, where they will be given bar codes, before ballots are tabulated electronically.

Ethnic tension between Kurds and Arabs, particularly in Kirkuk, also is considered a threat to Iraqi stability, and is a major issue for many voters.

Despite increased security measures for the election, a roadside bomb detonated in Kirkuk, wounding four policemen.