Iraqis in two Sunni-majority provinces are voting Thursday in provincial elections that officials had delayed by two months because of security concerns.
Some 2.8 million people are eligible to vote in the polls to fill 69 provincial council seats in western Anbar and northern Ninevah provinces.
Authorities imposed a ban on vehicular traffic in major cities in the two provinces to protect against car bombings. Thousands of policemen and soldiers were deployed to secure the vote.
The tight security left streets in former insurgent strongholds largely deserted. Anbar and Ninevah have seen repeated protests against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.
The elections are widely viewed as a measure of the strength of political parties ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
Among the groups hoping for a strong showing are Sunni parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi's United bloc, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq's Arab Iraqiya coalition and the secular but Sunni-dominated Iraqiya bloc headed by Shiite politician Ayad Allawi.
With the exception of the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, voters in 12 other Iraqi provinces cast their ballots in April. The three Kurdish provinces hold elections on their own timetable and are scheduled to go to the polls in September.