Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is urging his country's 15 million eligible voters to head to the polls Thursday, for parliamentary elections that Iraqis hope will be a turning point for security and stability.

Mr. Talabani said Wednesday that a strong turnout would give the new government the legitimacy it needs to defeat terrorists.

Expatriate Iraqis are heeding his call. Election officials say more than 80,000 overseas Iraqis cast ballots Tuesday, in the first of three days of absentee voting in 15 countries from Australia to the United States.

Officials say more than 6,000 candidates have registered to run for parliament's 275 seats. The new parliament is officially called the Council of Representatives.

In Iraq, schools, businesses and the country's border are all closed, and vehicle traffic is banned as part of strict security measures. There has been some violence, however. In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attack on a police patrol killed two officers.

The election will be the first such vote since a new constitution was ratified in October.

Although elections for an interim assembly were held in January, this vote will be the first for a parliament that will sit for a four-year term.

Voters will choose from lists of parties and coalitions representing Iraq's many religious, ethnic and political groups. Only a handful of those are expected to be strong contenders.

In this election, each of Iraq's 18 provinces will be a separate voting district, with seats allocated according to population. The provinces will elect 230 legislators, and the remaining 45 seats will be filled according to a party's share of the national vote.

The new parliament will choose the next prime minister, who will then form a cabinet.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.