Iraqis are voting Wednesday in the country's first general elections since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011.

Polls opened under tight security with voters choosing candidates for the 328-seat parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seeking a third term in his post, but the election comes as Iraq sees its worst violence since 2008. He cast his ballot Wednesday in Baghdad and urged Iraqis to turn out in large numbers.

"On this occasion, I call upon all Iraqis to go to the ballot boxes and participate in large numbers in the election, because those who take part in the election will have the right to criticize and ask for accountability and monitor while those who do not take part in the election will not have that right. I do not want any citizen to miss out on his right in monitoring the election, I wish to see a huge turnout. God willing we will celebrate the success of the election and the defeat the terrorism and those who bet on election postponement. "

Data from the United Nations and local officials indicates at least 7,800 civilians were killed last year, with another 2,600 killed in the first three months of 2014.

Regular bombings and shooting have continued, including attacks Monday and Tuesday that killed at least 65 people. No one claimed responsibility for those attacks, but Sunni militants have been accused of similar acts in attempts to derail the political process.

Analysts say voters will likely choose along sectarian and ethnic lines with no single party expected to win a majority.